Every trip to the grocery store more and more items are packaged in plastic, which are then placed in a plastic shopping cart, possibly paid for with a plastic credit card and carried out in plastic bags. In short almost everything we use consists of or was built by a plastic based product. So what’s the issue? Plastics represent one of the biggest pollutants in the world because they take an immense amount of time to break down. Today most plastic is made from polyurethane.
The main negative effect that plastic has on our environment is how hazardous it is. Polyurethane plastic does not biodegrade, it photo-degrades with solar radiation and oxidation from sunlight. It breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they never really disappear. An example of this would be a plastic cigarette lighter cast out to sea will fragment into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic without breaking into simpler compounds, which scientists estimate could take hundreds of thousands years. These plastic pieces are often eaten by marine life such as sea turtles looking for jellyfish, or birds, which can become strangled and trapped. This plastic also has been found washed up on beaches, or broken down into microscopic plastic dust that then attract more debris. National Geographic says that scientists are currently collecting as much as 1.9 million bits of micro-plastic per square mile. What scientists are most concerned about is the fact that the plastic is blocking the sun below the surface of the water, leading to a decrease in plankton and algae, the most common marine food source. Scientists worry that should the decrease in food sources could eventually affect the entire marine ecosystem. These fears were echoed in 2004, when English scientists reported microscopic plastic fragments had worked their way down and are polluting deep ocean sediments. These foreign sediments are now known to be in the plankton. (Richard Thompson, Science magazine)
The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 currently plastic pieces make up about 40% of its surface. There are places where public landfills and sewage treatment plants do not exist and as a result, all of the trash and sewage goes straight into the ocean.
When our trash makes its way to our oceans, it tends to travel until it all accumulates in select areas of the globe. Today, we know of two large areas of accumulated debris in the Pacific Ocean. These areas have been named the North and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches. These areas area created because of what’s called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. A gyre is defined as a slow moving vortex of currents, created by a high-pressure system of air currents. These currents bring the trash together and prevent it from leaving these trash “islands”. This accumulated trash has become so massive that currently the Easter Garbage Patch is nearly twice the size of Texas and located just east of Japan all the way to just west of Hawaii. How large these vortexes will become is unknown, as they