Great Pacific Garbage Patch growing exponentially: 1.8 trillion pieces of trash

The huge mass of floating trash known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing at a fast pace, according to a newly published study. The patch is composed of plastic waste — bottles, eroded bits and pieces of broken plastics, discarded fishing nets, and more — that have collected in the upper water column between Hawaii and California. It's a sad reminder of humanity's negative impact on the environment, one that, unfortunately, may be sixteen times larger than previously estimated.

It takes a long time for plastic to break down, which is why it is important to reduce the amount used and recycle what is used. Despite that, huge amounts of plastic waste ends up in the trash, and some of that makes its way into large bodies of water. Once in the ocean, plastic bottles and other litter is carried by currents, at times forming an accumulation zone where the waste piles against each other, sometimes even forming floating islands of debris.

Image via NOAA

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is perhaps the worst example of this. According to NOAA, this collection of trash contains both visible concentrations and less visible floating plastics that span huge surface areas. "It is possible to sail through the 'garbage patch' area and see very little or no debris on the water's surface," NOAA explains on its website. That makes it hard to estimate just how large this mass of waste is.

A study published in Nature used a model and data from various surveys of the garbage patch to estimate how large it is. According to the researchers, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch could span a region that is 1.6 million km2 and contain at least 79 thousand tonnes of plastic trash. This means the GPGP may be 4 to 16 times larger than previous estimates, and the size gets larger every day.

Fishing nets make up a huge portion of the garbage patch, accounting for at least 49-percent of the mass. Microplastics, meanwhile, make up about 8-percent of the mass, clocking in at a huge 94-percent of the approximately 1.8 trillion pieces of floating ocean plastic. Also alarming is the researchers' conclusion: "our results suggest that ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters."

SOURCE: Nature