Just How Big Is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is greater than we ever thought. And by greater, I mean worse.


According to research published last month, it’s “increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.” The slurry of trash and seawater loosely held together by Pacific currents spans 617,762 square miles, roughly twice the size of Texas. So yes, this garbage patch could mess with Texas and probably win.

The growing patch of garbage is chock full of all sort of things, chief among them plastic. An estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of it weigh in at 80,000 tons, according to the Ocean Cleanup Foundation. Of that, 46 percent comes from discarded fishing nets alone.

But what ends up in the patch doesn’t stay there. The foundation also notes that sea turtles living in the region have a diet that consists of up to 74 percent plastic (no, that’s not missing a decimal). Other animals also consume plastic as it breaks down into smaller pieces. Those animals in turn get eaten by bigger animals. And because plastic is forever, it eventually works it way up the food chain and can even end up on our plates. Basically, we’re eating the plastic we don’t dispose of properly so think of that next time you go to grab a straw or ask for a plastic bag.

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.


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Before you gifted and talented enviro kids at Earther do a solutions video pivot - you know, to stay positive - let’s refer to the real experts here in the comments.

Plastics nicely degrade by exposure to ultraviolet light. The products of degradation depend on what the plastic is to begin with. For instance polyethylene will eventually degrade to CO2 and water. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) based plastics will eventually degraded to CO2, water and salts of chlorine. Any degradation daughter products like vinyl chloride we can ignore. It will flash into the atmosphere and help out in my brilliant solution below.

The problem is that the ozone layer blocks a good chunk of this UV rays coming from the sun. Christ, did we fuck up in fixing the hole. Idiots! What we do is pump massive amounts of CFCs and/or simply chlorinated hydrocarbons like vinyl chloride and carbon tetrachloride to strip the troposphere of the ozone layer. This way the sun’s UV light can fully (somewhat) degrade all that plastic in the ocean. This will also ramp up the temperature as many of those CFC are also GHGs. Everything works faster with more heat added. What we also need is oxygen free radicals like that from ozone or hydrogen peroxide to move the photo ionization reaction further to completion. We could always add an electrolysis component in phase 2. Like giant ships with huge electrodes fired up with nuclear power.


Bill Nye the Science Guy don’t know shit. I should be on TV.