Giant ocean garbage patch should be grabbing headlines

It seems that many news headlines these days feature celebrities.

  • Nov. 4, 2011 11:00 a.m.

It seems that many news headlines these days feature celebrities. Western culture has a fascination with the lives of the rich and famous, attributing extreme importance to their various activities/ attire/ relationships.

Given limited and dwindling journalism resources and a need for catchy ‘sound bites’, these stories take up space that could be filled with issues of global significance, stirring public discussion. One headline that I feel has been missing from the front page of newspapers is the following: ‘Gigantic Ocean Garbage Patch may be as large as the U.S.’

This seems like a real story to me. The human race is leaving an incredible legacy to the next generations of all species. A legacy showing the worst side of our species.

In the central North Pacific, there is a massive accumulation of plastics, chemical sludge and other garbage. Estimating the size of this patch is difficult; (particles of garbage degrade into ‘garbage soup’ that  is not visible from satellite); and vary from ‘twice the size of France’ to, as my suggested news headline stated, larger than the U.S.

Measurements show a 6X greater concentration of ocean plastic particles than zooplankton. Wildlife consumes garbage/plastics mistaking it for food: garbage kills a hundred thousand marine mammals and a million sea birds annually.

Most people would agree that an ocean garbage patch the size of a country is a bad thing: apart from the direct effect on wildlife, plastic binds toxins and enters the food chain at all levels, affecting those of us further up the same food chains.

Humans tend to demand ‘accountability’ when faced with a perceived wrong doing. So, who is responsible? Who should pay? Who should clean it up?Well, that is difficult.

The garbage in this patch is thought to originate primarily from North America and Japan, but there are almost certainly other garbage patches throughout our oceans. Some garbage is intentionally dumped into rivers and oceans, (20 per cent is thought to come from ships, 80 per cent and some accidentally finds its way- such as through storm sewers that connect to creeks and wash litter down to the ocean from inland cities.

A boom was set up at the mouth of the Los Angeles River to measure the garbage outflow in to the ocean, and caught 60 tons over one weekend.

That is one city, in one country, with a functioning garbage collection system in place.And how to clean it up… well, scientists unfortunately agree it is impossible.

Surveys suggest there are  46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer of ocean world-wide, many smaller than 5mm across.

So what to do? The only thing is to prevent adding further ocean plastics. One tip is to avoid the use of plastic bags and bottles, where most plastic is used. Plastic lasts forever, so reducing plastic use overall  and recycling essential plastics is key. And maybe it is time to pay a little less attention to what Princess Kate had for dinner.

For information on Waste Wise or Water Wise, contact CCCS at mailto:sustain@ccconserv.org”sustain@ccconserv.org or visit the website at www.ccconserv.org.

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