By Tyler Farmer on March 11, 2010

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling stew of bits of trash in the Pacific Ocean, is harming wildlife, polluting the water and growing by the day.

Texas Sized Trash Island“A floating mass of trash twice the size of Texas has turned the Pacific into an ocean of plastic, killing sea life — and working its way up the food chain.”

What if society took pollution and plastics more seriously decades ago? The words quoted above sum up a feature article in Rolling Stone — an article that probably would not have needed to be written had society curbed its wasteful practices with plastic. The article is talking, of course, about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling stew of bits of trash that is harming wildlife, polluting the water and growing by the day.

It is alarming that such a mind-boggling phenomenon of unimaginable proportion is now featured in a rock 'n roll magazine instead of a standard scientific publication like Scientific American, as one would expect. But, it is true: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is real. This worrisome reality is clearly depicted in down-to-earth terms by Kitt Doucette in issue number 1090 of the world-famous music periodical. What if those bans on plastic grocery bags happened 10, 15 or 20 years ago? Would we still be dealing with such a destructive and worrisome phenomenon today?

Another source, Zimbio, tells us that, while a vision of swirling plastic grocery bags and Dasani bottles might be what captivates our imaginations when we hear about this epic garbage current, it is in fact tiny pieces of man-made plastics called “microplastics” that are causing terrible complications in the earth’s largest ocean:

“From seabirds all the way to larval fish, microplastic enters the marine food chain and as it does, it releases a variety of polluting chemicals as part of the process of breaking down — this breakdown we have come to call ‘biodegradable’ but plastic doesn't really ever disappear; it simply continues to separate into smaller and smaller components, releasing chemicals into the water and into the tissues of many ocean species, many of which end up on our dinner table.”

Would it have been possible to develop plant-based, truly biodegradable plastics if we saw such complications coming? Regardless of the answer, today we are saddled with the alarming process of countless microplastic pieces breaking off from larger manufactured products and affecting the natural habitat from start to finish. Oh, and it gets better (well... worse).

It turns out there are signs of a Great Atlantic Ocean Patch as well. National Geographic delivered the news that researchers at the Woods Hole-based Sea Education Association have found a floating garbage stew on their side of the States as well, which seems fair for all of our East Coast friends. That article informs us that, “The exact size of the patch is unknown but the plastic is likely gathering for the same reason the garbage is in the Pacific: Because of gyres, or rotating ocean currents that trap the waste.”

So, now the United States sits in the middle of the world’s two largest oceans, both of which are infected by unfathomable toxins and tiny plastic pieces that are poisoning our world’s marine life — a complicated situation that continually leaves us asking, “What if?” What if we had developed better plastics that are truly eco-friendly? What if we had better practices where recycling and consumerism weren’t the laws of the land? What if we had better policies that set the standard for sustainable urban and rural lifestyles years ago? Unfortunately, no one knows.

The invention of plastic made countless lives easier and revolutionized many, if not all, sectors of the world in the past century. While current complications may have caused finger pointing, I-told-you-sos and a perpetual revisit to the almighty “what if,” a fix-all solution seems out of sight.

But, not all is lost! There are always ways to mitigate such issues without giving up some of the conveniences plastics allow. The ever-popular cloth grocery bags are a major way to keep polyethylene out of our oceans. Additionally, it seems that scientists are looking for ways to create truly biodegradable plastic. And, lastly, let’s not forget the benefits of recycling! This means that we can truly and endlessly reuse a set amount of potentially harmful material without causing offensive complications to our natural habitat… and that writers at Rolling Stone can get back to covering the music industry.

About the author

Tyler was born and raised in Albuquerque, NM. In the Southwest he played many sports, and attended school with an eager passion to learn. By the end of high school, Tyler was an All-American swimmer and water polo player, and a member of the National Honors Society.

Tyler left the Land of Enchantment to attend the University of Washington. In Seattle, he continued his interest in swimming and water polo, which led him to become a member, and later the president and captain, of the Water Polo Club. Tyler graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and community, environment and planning, and a minor in architecture.

After graduating, Tyler briefly lived in Baton Rouge, LA, and then Fresno, CA, gaining experience working as a green blogger and recycling specialist for Electronic Recyclers International. Tyler is currently pursuing a legal career while freelance writing in Seattle.

Learn more about Tyler Farmer


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