There are many reasons why this huge amount of trash enters our oceans every single day. One reason is due to poor trash management by the Waste Management Department in many regions of the world. In Ghana, a state in Africa, the Waste Management Department is currently capable of collecting only 60% of the waste generated daily. The rest is dumped in open spaces, surface drains, and into bodies of water. This is a prime example of how even when we properly dispose of our trash in appropriate containers and it is collected and brought to a landfill, our waste can still find its way, whether directly or indirectly, into our oceans. The best way to eliminate the amount of trash in our landfills is to recycle all glass, plastics, papers, and aluminum products. 80% of the trash that can be found in our landfills is recyclable. This is a staggering number than can be drastically decreased if more people made recycling a part of their everyday life.
To date, there have been 275 billion plastic bags produced worldwide in just 2017 alone. Every second, a massive amount of 160,000 plastic bags are being produced and used. By the end of this year, we will have used 5 billion plastic bags. According to The World Count of these 5 billion bags, 5 million of them will make their way into the ocean either indirectly due to things like poor waste management, or directly by people who unfortunately do not know the significant consequences to the environment from their actions. Additionally, only less than 1% of these used plastic bags are properly recycled. This is why plastic is the number one and most serious source of pollution in the ocean.
Once the trash reaches the ocean, where does it all go? You may be at the beach and not see any trash around you and wonder how there can be over 5.25 trillion pieces and counting. One of the main places our trash travels to is The North Pacific Ocean Gyre, or as most people known it as, the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch. An ocean gyre is defined as a system of circular ocean currents formed by the Earth's wind patterns and the forces created by the rotation of the planet (National Geographic). Despite its name, there is nothing great about this swirling mass of trash that is four times the size of Texas. This ocean gyre has become so filled with trash, that it was once thought you could see it from space. That theory has since been proven wrong (March 2018) and is actually worse than we imagined. Much of the trash found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is microplastic.
Why here? The Great Pacific Patch has the strongest currents of all the five ocean gyres and is located between the Hawaiian Islands and California. Unfortunately, most of the trash from around the world travels here through currents and gets sucked into the swirling mass where it remains until it can decompose in time. And the most common found trash in this swirling vortex? You guessed it - plastic.
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As we got closer to the ocean floor, we began to approach a reef; this reef was nothing short of epic. The colours were bright and everything appeared to be healthy with marine life flourishing... that was until the current changed. Within seconds, this heaving reef became surrounded with plastic and rubbish.