AltUse Find - The Trash Vortex in the Ocean

The Trash Vortex

The very thing that makes plastic items useful to consumers, their durability and stability, also makes them a problem in marine environments. Around 100 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year of which about 10 percent ends up in the sea. About 20 percent of this is from ships and platforms, the rest from land. Read More

Take a walk along any beach anywhere in the world and washed ashore will be many polythene plastic bags, bottles and containers, plastic drums, expanded polystyrene packing, polyurethane foam pieces, pieces of polypropylene fishing net and discarded lengths of rope. Together with traffic cones, disposable lighters, vehicle tyres and toothbrushes, these items have been casually thrown away on land and at sea and have been carried ashore by wind and tide.
These larger items are the visible signs of a much larger problem. These big items do not degrade like natural materials. At sea and on shore under the influence of sunlight, wave action and mechanical abrasion they simply break down slowly  into ever smaller particles.

A single one litre drinks bottle could break down into enough small fragments to put one on every mile of beach in the entire world. These smaller particles are joined by the small pellets of plastic which are the form in which many new plastics are marketed and which can be lost at sea by the drumload or even a whole container load.  These modern day “marine tumbleweeds” have been thrown into sharp focus, not only by the huge quantities removed from beaches by dedicated volunteers, but by the fact that they have been found to accumulate in sea areas where winds and currents are weak.

The “Eastern Garbage Patch”


The North Pacific sub-tropical gyre covers a large area of the Pacific in which the water circulates clockwise in a slow spiral. Winds are light. The currents tend to force any floating material into the low energy central area of the gyre. There are few islands on which the floating material can beach. So it stays there in the gyre, in astounding quantities estimated at six kilos of plastic for every kilo of naturally occurring plankton.  The equivalent of an area the size of Texas swirling slowly around like a clock. This gyre has also been dubbed “the Asian Trash Trail” the “Trash Vortex” or the “Eastern Garbage Patch”.