If you drop plastic, where does it end up?

The oceanic gyres: the rotation of the Earth and the temperature differences in the oceans generate a continuous circular movement of the marine currents. So, as if in a drain, plastic trash floats in smaller and smaller circles around the center of the gyre, slowly accumulating.
Worldwide, there are five major subtropical oceanic gyres: the North and South Pacific Subtropical Gyres, the North and South Atlantic Subtropical Gyres and the Indian Ocean Subtropical Gyre. Since each behaves in the same vortex style, scientists are certain that massive conglomerates of marine litter like the North Pacific Garbage Patch exist in each of the world’s oceans.
Oceanic gyres
The large Pacific garbage dump, which forms part of the North Pacific gyre, is the largest and most well-known floating mass of rubbish. It is more like garbage soup / plastic soup, there is no single solid surface where you can put your foot. Much of the waste is made up of microplastics, that is, plastics reduced to small fragments by the action of sunlight and waves. Studies show that there are around 15 to 50 billion microplastic fragments in the oceans.
Plastic concentration (grams per km2)
It is not possible to determine precisely the area occupied by these “islands of garbage”. Plastics are constantly fragmented and the values vary widely. It is estimated, however, that only 30% of this debris is found on the surface, most of it is in the water column and at the bottom of the oceans.
However, to understand more about where the trash ends up, scientists have tracked drifting buoys that float with the currents just like plastic does, except they send a short message to scientists every six hours about where they are and the conditions in that location. Learn more about what they do and where your trash can end up.

It is known today that about 700 species are affected by plastic garbage, present in the oceans and, annually, about 8 million tons of plastic end in the sea. About 40% of this waste consists of single-use plastics, that is to say plastic that is used only once and then left unused. This is affecting a wide range of marine animals, from birds to mammals, not only because of the risk of entanglement, before their decomposition, but also by the risk of ingestion of plastic particles of microscopic size, which can ultimately lead to death by malnutrition, due to obstruction of the digestive system.

Learn more about how to help to reduce plastic.

No water, no life. No blue, no green. – Dr. Sylvia Earle

Written by Andreia Vieira


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