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What About Garbage Patch Hauls?

Blog From
September 2nd, 2009

Back in Mom’s heyday they were all the rage, those cabbage patch dolls. They were so ugly they were cute. And very collectible. My great aunt on Mom’s side had dozens of them.

Where are they now? Many are still in collections, no doubt. But, some may be in the Pacific Ocean, living these days in one of the Great Garbage Patches. A long way from cabbage and definitely not cute, but very, very real all the same. So, are the pieces of trash in these Patches collectible? Can they be hauled away from the deep blue sea? Need we try?

What are Garbage Patches anyway? They’re giant fields of loosely connected “trashbergs”. Meaning most of the trash is submerged as deep down as 100 feet while some of it floats on the surface of the water. Like the ice version only made up mostly of plastic.

How big are they? Just one of these Patches is claimed to be twice as large as Texas. But, accurately determining size is difficult. The Patches are spread out, like floating debris chains, rather than nicely compacted trash islands. Even so, the Pacific Patch – there are more in other oceans – is the largest garbage dump in the world. Maybe even the galaxy, unless there’s a lot of plastic out in space someplace.

Speaking of space, our Patches can’t be seen by satellite because the plastic is in small pieces floating at or just under the water’s surface. But, it’s there, millions of tons of it, and growing every year. And, since natural plastic went extinct ages ago, all the Patch trash comes from human sources. Mostly land, but a little from oil rigs and a little more from ships at sea. Once it hits the ocean, the trash is collected into the Patches by currents that make them large vortices. Kind of like circling the drain without ever going down the pipe.

If we just let the Patches be, what will happen to the garbage within, besides growing larger and larger? Well, if you’re looking for something that lasts forever, and you can’t afford a diamond, plastic is your friend. It doesn’t biodegrade. It just breaks up into small pieces from exposure to the sun. So, trash is there for the long haul.

What’s the big deal anyway? After all, the trash is concentrated mostly in these vortex Patches and pretty much stays there. Other than turning the ocean into a sea of confetti, what’s the catch? A couple of really big ones, actually. About 100,000 marine animals die trash-related deaths each year. And then there’s the toxicity problem. Toxins get into the systems of fish that eventually end up in our dinner bowls. Yum.

So, back to the beginning of this discussion. Is the trash in the Patches collectible? Can it be hauled back from whence it came and disposed of safely? Not so far. But, it’s a human-caused problem and there’s still hope for a human-engineered solution. Otherwise, we’ll drown for sure in a plastic tsunami of our own creation. Makes the next ice age look better and better.

See you on the left side.


 

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