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A Garbage Can the Size of Texas?

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The average American throws away just over four pounds of garbage every day, adding up to a whopping 1,460 pounds of trash every year. We Americans make up roughly 5% of the world's population but create 40% of the waste on this planet. Those numbers seem staggering to me! Where in the world is all that trash going? The obvious answer is to landfills, however studies over the last 10 or 15 years have indicated that a huge amount of this trash is ending up in the ocean.

Scientists have shown that ocean currents are concentrating this trash in a particularly LARGE pile and have even given it a name…The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also called the Pacific Trash Vortex). Most estimates place it at approximately the same size as Texas, however some studies indicate that it may be as large as the continental U.S. This image was taken from Wikipedia to show you the approximate location of this floating garbage heap. The Garbage Patch is located within the North Pacific Gyre which is the top center circle in this image. It makes up most of the North Pacific Ocean and is approximately 20 million square kilometers in size. This heap of trash is comprised mostly of minuscule particles of plastic, chemical sludge, abandoned fishing nets, and an assortment of debris that has gotten trapped there by ocean currents.

Some of the plastics floating around in this garbage heap end up in the stomachs of birds, fish, and sea turtles. Besides being indigestible, these small micro bits of plastic have a tendency to absorb toxic chemicals from the sludge that mimic certain hormones. This not only affects the fish and animals themselves but anything that comes along and eats THEM…like US!

So, what is being done about this floating garbage heap? At this point, not too much. An assortment of coalitions have been formed, ships have sailed out to the area to study the size and scope of the problem, suggestions have been made, but truthfully, no one knows quite what to do with that much trash. Can you imagine what this heap of floating debris is going to look like in 30 years if people don't wise up and start reducing the amount of trash they produce?

For more information on this topic you can check out Wikipedia or the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

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