Spiraling Out of Control

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Where does trash go when we throw it ‘away’?  Some of it makes its way to a swirling vortex in the middle of the Pacific Ocean- the North Pacific Gyre.  From the west coast of the United States, the ocean currents that make up the gyre pick up the trash and pull it to the center of the ocean, where an 'island' of trash the size of Texas waits to collect it.

Any size of plastic waste floating through the seas can be deadly to marine life, and as the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem is damaged, it loses its ability to fight back or adapt. Mistaking plastic for food, animals often ingest it without being able to digest it.  Its stomach can’t break it down, so the plastic sits in there, taking up space, until the animal dies of malnutrition or choking.

About ten million tons of plastic end up in the sea each year. The tide and winds push some of it ashore- plastic bottles, containers, and drums, pieces of polyurethane foam, and lengths of rope. It’s easy to assume that nothing would swallow something that big, but the truth is that big things just get broken into smaller pieces by the effects of the sun, waves, and abrasion.  Also, large amounts of small things get lost at sea, like plastic pellets that haven’t even been made into anything yet.  Take a look at where it all ends up with Greenpeace’s animated map.

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