There are over 80,000 tons of trash floating in the Pacific Ocean, much of it discarded fishing nets. But just how big is this trash patch? Three times the size of France, or twice the size of Texas, depending on who you ask. While nearly a quarter of the junk is leftover debris from the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, people shoulder the blame for the rest of the trash. In fact, estimates suggest that around 640,000 tons of fishing gear wind up in the Pacific each year. A report by CNN was used as a resource for this article.

Trash patch studies

A team of international scientists spent three years surveying the mess.

Using aerial investigations and boating expeditions, they carefully recorded their observations. They also carried nets and used sensors to capture 3D images of the garbage. Most of the trash patch is bigger junk, and around eight percent is microplastics, microscopic pieces of trash that are less than five millimeters. One of the scientists noted they were surprised to see so many bigger pieces of plastic.

While microplastics pose challenges of their own when Marine Life start thinking they’re food, larger plastics present problems too. Animals can get their heads stuck in yogurt containers, be strangled by plastic soda packaging, and worse.

The Trash Isles

Environmental scientists aren’t the only ones taking this huge trash problem seriously.

While environmentalists petitioned the United Nations to declare the garbage patch a country, there were at least 200,000 people who agreed to become “citizens,” of the Trash Isles. In this way, people like Al Gore, Gal Gadot, and Chris Hemsworth got involved and showed their support for a solution to the trash problem. While declaring the garbage heap a country doesn’t do much in the way of getting it cleaned up, the move brings awareness to the issue.

Origins of the Trash Patch

An oceanographer first came across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997, but it’s taken this long to highlight the issue on a global level. Unfortunately, humans are only adding to the amount of trash that’s floating in the Pacific. However, there are steps we can take to reduce what’s flowing in.

From discarded fishing equipment to plastic straws, bags, and single-use coffee cups and other items, we have the power to make smarter choices that are better for humans and better for marine life and our environment. What the trash patch studies and recent news show us is that our environmental impact doesn’t end when the trash gets taken out each week. We should be more concerned with where that garbage is ending up.