Where Did the Trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Come From & How Do We Stop It?

The water bottle could be from Los Angeles, the food container from Manila, and the plastic bag from Shanghai.

But whatever its specific source, almost all of the trash in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patchcomes from countries around the Pacific Rim.

Concerned about the millions of tons of garbage in the patch – a floating blob of trash halfway between California and Hawaii that’s twice the size of Texas – the Ocean Cleanup project is sending out a giant floating trash collector to try to scoop it up. The first of its cleanup systems launches Saturday near San Francisco.

It’s a daunting task: The patch includes about 1.8 trillion pieces of trash and weighs 88,000 tons – the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets.

And while many scientists say it’s great that people are trying to clean up the patch, others say most of our efforts should instead go towards stopping the out-of-control flow of plastic garbage into the ocean.

How much more? Try putting 95 percent of our efforts on stopping plastic from entering the ocean, and only 5 percent on cleanup, says Richard Thompson, head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom.

Thompson said a massive, global-scale effort is needed to combat the problem, one that includes contributions from individuals, policymakers and industry. “The way we use plastics – from design, to use to disposal – must be done more efficiently and in a more environmentally friendly manner.”

George Leonard, chief scientist with the Ocean Conservatory, said that “the clock is ticking; we must confront this challenge before plastics overwhelm the ocean.”

Where does it come from?

First discovered in the early 1990s, the garbage patch’s trash comes from countries around the Pacific Rim, including nations in Asia and North and South America, according to Laurent Lebreton of the Ocean Cleanup Foundation.

But specifically, scientists say the bulk of the garbage patch trash comes from China and other Asian countries.

This shouldn’t be a surprise: Overall, worldwide, most of the plastic trash in the ocean comes from Asia. In fact, the top six countries for ocean garbage are China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, according to a 2015 study that appeared in the journal Science.

The United States contributes as much as 242 million pounds of plastic trash to the ocean per year, according to that study.

China has begun to take steps to stem the tide of trash that’s floating away from its shores. The country recently banned the import of most plastic waste, according to a study published in June in Science Advances.

China has imported about 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste since 1992 for recycling, the study found. In the U.S. alone, nearly 4,000 shipping containers full of plastic recyclables a day had been shipped to Chinese recycling plants.

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Source: USA Today