When Litter Forms Islands 

There is a floating island twice the size of Texas. What is it? A mass of litter and garbage. Litter and garbage contamination have been an issue for quite some time, but it started to become more than just a minor issue in the 1950s. “USA Today states that the mass was first discovered in the early 1990s and is made up of about 1.8 trillion pieces and weighs 88,000 tons – the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets.” (Rice). Most people are aware that littering is a problem, but many don’t realize just how problematic it has become. Humans play a massive role in the formation of these “plastic islands”. The formation of these islands relies on garbage that makes its way into the ocean and combines with other debris. According to Laura Parker in a National Geographic Magazine, “The growth of plastic production has far outstripped the ability of waste management to keep up and that is why the oceans are under assault.” These plastic islands can release toxins into the water as well as being hazardous to fish and various wildlife. There is a myriad of ways to reduce the amount of litter in the ocean, such as recycling, participating in trash clean ups, and reducing the use of plastics.

Humans have an unbelievable role in the formation of these “plastic islands”. The use of plastic in everyday life is ending up in landfills as well as the oceans. Humans use plastics in coffee lids, straws, bags, bottles, and many other everyday items. As these items end up getting thrown away, they end up in landfills but also in our rivers and oceans. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it has been called, has become a symbol of what some say is a looming crisis over trash. But this floating mass of plastic in the Pacific Ocean is hard to measure and few agree on how big it is or how much plastic it holds” (Bialik). Plastic wasn’t invented until the late nineteenth century, and production spiked in the 1950s, which caused a massive spike in the amount of litter and pollution. Humans have been very negligent in recycling and making sure to properly get rid of the trash and litter that gets thrown out that ends up in our rivers, streams, lakes, and ultimately in the oceans.

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These “islands” are formed when storms and currents pull in trash and debris and it piles together, most plastics do not degrade but instead just break into smaller pieces. The North Pacific Gyre is the area where the largest patch is located. The rotational currents in this area draw in litter and trap it in the center of this massive “island”. Litter from all over gets trapped in currents, nets, and other fishing gear, which form into these islands. The largest of these islands is over twice the size of Texas, and there are even more of these garbage masses. Scientists can’t even be sure of the actual size of them, only that they are constantly growing larger. “The sources are many and difficult to pinpoint. Debris blows, washes, or is discharged into the water from the land” (Cottingham). According to Kenneth Weiss of Los Angeles Times, “The debris can spin for decades in one of a dozen or more gigantic gyres around the globe, only to be spat out and carried by currents to distant lands.” Weiss also states that the United Nations Environment Program estimates there is over 46,000 plastic pieces of litter floating on every square mile of the ocean and that only approximately seventy percent of it will sink.

The damage that these plastic islands cause have both direct and indirect harm on humans and wildlife. Some of the direct harm is when wildlife eats or gets caught the plastic and various trash, and it ends up killing them or severely harming them in the process. An indirect harm is the release of toxins into the water and environment. The release of these toxins can cause changes in the growth and development of sea life and transfers these toxins on to other wildlife or humans when they are eaten. The biological impact is massive because the plastic can capture and entangle wildlife and be potentially dangerous to new surroundings. Toxins from these man-made products have the ability to absorb and transport a million times the concentration of hydrophobic toxic chemicals than that of the ambient water. (Dumas) These plastic islands can also aid in the invasion of bugs and other species that use them as a sort of stepping stones.

There are a lot of different ways to fix the major problems of the growing islands, and the formation of new ones. Littering is the biggest issue for why these islands keep growing, and recycling can help to reduce littering. Reducing the amounts of plastics used in everyday life can help keep plastics from ending up in landfills and water supplies. Helping to pick up litter in streams and other various places will reduce the amounts that end up making their way into the ocean and making the islands grow. Both corporations and individual people have come out to aid in fixing this problem. Corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Amcor, and Unilever have pledged to convert to 100% reusable and recyclable, or compostable packaging by 2025. Johnson and Johnson is also switching back to paper sticks on their cotton swabs. (Parker) These multiple ways of helping to solve the problem are very important and even the small changes are a step in the right direction towards can help to eliminate the spread of litter to oceans. In addition to this, keeping trash picked up and recycled can save not only wildlife but human lives as well.

In conclusion, the choices made by humans and the production of plastics and other non-biodegradable items are ending up in the oceans and other areas. As the litter gets caught in currents or storms, the debris ends up in large masses of trash that becomes entangled together to form these “plastic islands”. These islands cause many issues for the environment, wildlife, and humans. Options to help keep more islands from forming, old islands from growing, and even reducing the size of current islands can be easily found. Cleaning up litter as it’s found, reducing the use of plastics and other non-biodegradable items, increasing the use of biodegradable ones, and recycling what can be are all great ways to help.

Works Cited

  1. Rice, Doyle. “World’s Largest Collection of Ocean Garbage Is Twice the Size of Texas.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 28 Mar. 2018, www.usatoday.com/story/tech/science/2018/03/22/great-pacific-garbage-patch-grows/446405002/.
  2. Lebreton, L., et al. “Evidence That the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Rapidly Accumulating Plastic.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 22 Mar. 2018, www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22939-w.
  3. Parker, Laura. ‘We made Plastic. We Depend on it. Now we’re Drowning in it.’ National Geographic, Jun. 2018, pp. 40-69. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks-sirs-com.ezproxy.np.edu.
  4. Dumas, Daisy. ‘Landfill-on-Sea.’ Ecologist (London, England) Vol.37, No.7, Sep. 2007, pp. 34-37. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks-sirs-com.ezproxy.np.edu.
  5. Cottingham, David. ‘Persistent Marine Debris — Part 1.’ Mariners Weather Log, 1989, pp. 8-14. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks-sirs-com.ezproxy.np.edu.
  6. Cottingham, David. ‘Persistent Marine Debris — Part 2.’ Mariners Weather Log, 1989, pp. 12-17. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks-sirs-com.ezproxy.np.edu.
  7. Weiss, Kenneth R. ‘Altered Oceans: Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas.’ Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), 02 Aug. 2006, pp. A1+. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks-sirs-com.ezproxy.np.edu.
  8. Bialik, Carl. ‘How Big is that Widening Gyre of Floating Plastic?’ Wall Street Journal, 25 Mar. 2009, pp. A.14. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks-sirs-com.ezproxy.np.edu.
  9. Maqueda, Manuel. ‘The Bioplastic Labyrinth.’ Earth Island Journal, 2010, pp. 18. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks-sirs-com.ezproxy.np.edu.

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When Litter Forms Islands . (2022, Feb 12). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/when-litter-forms-islands/