The North Pacific Trash Vortex

November 28th, 2006

During my daily consumption of interesting articles from Divester, I came across a piece describing a giant ‘vortex’ of plastic waste that circles around in the middle of the ocean North of Hawaii. Fascinated, I read on. Apparently the ocean currents carry the plastic waste discarded by ships and from land into a circular pattern such that this garbage accumulates and has nowhere else to go.

There are, in fact, two such vortices at work in the Pacific ocean, the other one lying just off the coast of Japan (another major producer of plastic waste on the Pacific Rim. According to Greenpeace:

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.

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.

A graphic of the prevailing oceanic currents that leads to the vortices of plastic (indicated by yellow dots). Click to view animation.

Plastic bottles, heading off to….?

Entry Filed under: Environment

1 Comment
  • 1
    ps Fuller
    September 12th, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Plastic bottles will shatter into tiny pieces in the winter provinces, and those tiny pieces make great paving material. It”s light, tough,
    (almost too tough). Keep it, shatter it during our prarie boughts of -30, and pave our roads and railbeds with this stuff, and you’ll be
    killing multiple birds (metaphorically of coarse) with one stone, and saving millions of real birds turtles and whales.


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