About GYRES: Toxic Islands of Plastic Trash

Written on 14 Jan 2014

Did you know? Only 5% of the plastics we currently produce end up being recycled. So where does the rest go? About 50% ends up buried in landfills, and the remaining plastic waste remains just that – waste – scattered across the landscape. Eventually, most of this garbage makes its way to waterways and storm drains and, ultimately, the world's oceans. In the ocean, some types of plastic waste float at the water's surface. The natural systems of ocean currents and wind create large, slow-moving whirlpools where this stuff accumulates. These trash-building currents are known as "gyres".

There are 5 major gyres that have been identified and are being studied by scientists. The best known gyre, known as the North Pacific Gyre, is mind-boggling – it's area is about twice the size of the United States! Though the plastic trash in these gyres is slowly breaking down,  plastic is designed to last, so this pollution is a major hazard for all marine life, as well as for humans. Scientists studying the gyres are finding that as these pieces of plastic accumulate in the ocean, they are absorbing large amounts of contaminants such as PCBs and hydrocarbons. The plastic waste breaks down into smaller bits that are inadvertently consumed by marine life, and toxifying them in the process. Cetaceans, seabirds, turtles and many species of fish are being documented with higher and higher levels of toxification, as well as bits of plastic, in their bodies. Studies are currently being done to assess the level at which these pollutants are being concentrated and passed along the food chain; ultimately, humans eating seafood may well be absorbing the toxins our plastic waste are concentrating into the world's oceans. Many are asking – are plastics worth such a great risk? Learn more about gyres at 5gyres.org


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