The Great Garbage Patch — Time to Think Beyond Plastic


Charmaine Coimbra

You ask, “How bad is this Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Gyre?”

It’s still a work in study, with a nightmarish bit of data already published.  According to a recent report from the Center for Ocean Solutions–a collaboration between Stanford University, including the Hopkins Marine Station, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute–a group of 30 scientists from around the Pacific reviewed more than 3,400 scientific articles and reports regarding the Pacific Ocean, “…the most pervasive and serious threats…(are) pollution …(including) plastic marine debris…habitat destruction…overfishing and exploitation…(and) climate change (from) Carbon dioxide (CO2) discharged to the atmosphere…”

The report is available at


Plastics in Great Garbage Patch from

The Great Garbage Patch is the subject of this blog.

Sea Studios Foundation in Monterey, Ca ( recently explained, “(The Great Garbage Patch)… is roughly the size of Texas, containing approximately 3.5 million tons of trash.  Shoes, toys, bags, pacifiers, wrappers, toothbrushes, and bottles too numerous to count are only part of what can be found in this accidental dump floating midway between Hawaii and San Francisco.”


Why is the trash there?

dmb-turn_resizeDavid Robinson, captain of the marine research vessel Derek M Baylis, and managing director of Sea Life Conservation (, gave the most direct and simple explanation last night in Morro Bay, CA,  “Because the ocean is downhill from everywhere.”

While the shipping industry is a secondary source of trash in the ocean, the main source is you and I—including our demand from the plastics industry, that also loses nurdles (tiny round plastic bits that make plastic toys–see ) into the sea.

Consider a big event, like a tornado ripping through the Midwestern US, spewing tons of trash along creeks that drain into tributary rivers, that drain into, say, the Mississippi River, that drains into the Gulf of Mexico.  Consider the winds along San Francisco Bay that catch a loose plastic bag, and a runaway plastic cup that continue their downhill plight into the Pacific Ocean. Consider an earthquake and a resulting tsunami along Indonesia that uproots more debris, and then with a few swift destructive waves, pulls more waste into the Pacific.  Consider the abandoned plastic toys that get caught in an El Nino year flood somewhere in Washington State, that floats downhill, and eventually into Puget Sound, and out into the sea.

I think of the wind that grabbed an empty plastic bag that I reused for lunch, right out from my car when I opened the door.  I chased the bag until the wind flipped it into the air and over a fence, and out of reach, and then free to float into the open sea.  Multiply this seemingly minor accident by the millions of people who live along the Pacific Coast—both east and west.  And suddenly we find ourselves Googleing a map of Texas as we try to conceptualize trash inundating those state boundaries. 

Then someone asks what’s the problem with that, because the trash is out in the middle of nowhere? The old out of sight out of mind scenario.

I’m going to let Captain Charles Moore, who discovered this garbage patch explain in this video:

Robinson simplified this issue of why the plastic in the Great Garbage Patch is important, “It’s now a part of our food chain.”   Aside from the fish that have consumed plastic #7, for instance, a polycarbonate plastic used for clear plastic “sippy” cups, electronics, medical storage containers, 5-gallon water bottles, and “sport” water bottles, we eventually consume the fish.  The health effects of polycarbonate plastic include the leaching of bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor.

Here’s how the scientific community views BPA

“By mimicking the action of the hormone, estrogen, bisphenol A has been found to: effect the development of young animals; play a role in certain types of cancer; create genetic damage and behavioral changes in a variety of species. Bisphenol A is widespread–one study found BPA in 95% of American adults sampled.”  (Italics, mine.)

If that statement doesn’t catch your attention, then go ahead and just make yourself a BPA and banana smoothie and get the suffering over with quickly.

This is a challenge that is best met by stopping the over-use of plastics now.  Like Robinson said last night, “I don’t hate plastics.  My helmet for cycling is plastic and it’s good.  But plastic when utilized for a moment (like take out containers, Styrofoam coffee cups, single serving food items—yogurt, juice drinks, etc.) is the problem.”   One momentary, single use item, like a polystyrene take out container, can last for 400 years.  When he was asked how do we fix this garbage patch dilemma, Robinson noted that repairing the ecological disaster is monumental, but “First, we have to stop the flow of plastic, ” meaning stop the plastic bags, stop the polystyrene single use containers, rethink your everyday dependence upon plastic and – try spending one day a week without plastic at all.

Note:  The Think Beyond Plastics Voyage  will next stop in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Newport Beach and San Diego.

For more information about plastic bags and plastics, see the accompanying Pages in this blog.

Categories: Great Pacific Trash Island, North Pacific Gyre, Saving the Oceans, Trash Gyre

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: