How Much Garbage Is in the Ocean?

The world's oceans contain 7,000 to 35,000 tons of floating garbage, mostly plastic. Areas of the ocean where waste tends to concentrate are called "garbage patches." These patches are created when marine debris is carried and then trapped by ocean currents. Currently, each ocean has at least one garbage patch.

More about garbage in the ocean:

  • The Pacific Ocean contains two garbage patches: the Western Garbage Patch, southeast of Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California.
  • Microbes have been found to live on plastic garbage, mainly the cholera bacteria, Vibrio.
  • The size of garbage patches varies greatly and is difficult to determine. This is due to plastics breaking down into smaller pieces that cannot be detected by satellites.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much garbage is currently estimated to be in the ocean?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it's challenging to determine the exact amount of garbage in the ocean due to its vastness and the fact that trash is constantly entering the marine environment. However, reports suggest that there are approximately 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. This includes both microplastics, which are tiny fragments, and larger items that can be harmful to marine life. (Source: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/marinedebris.html)

What are the primary sources of ocean garbage?

The primary sources of ocean garbage include land-based activities, such as littering, industrial discharges, and waste mismanagement, which account for up to 80% of marine debris. The remaining 20% comes from ocean-based sources like fishing vessels, cargo ships, and offshore platforms. Notably, rivers serve as significant conduits, funneling trash from inland areas to the sea. (Source: https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/marine-plastics)

How does garbage in the ocean affect marine life?

Garbage in the ocean has devastating effects on marine life. Animals can become entangled in larger pieces of debris, leading to injury or death. Ingestion of plastics can cause internal blockages, starvation, and poisoning due to the absorption of toxic chemicals. Additionally, microplastics can be mistaken for food by plankton, entering the food chain and potentially affecting human health through seafood consumption. (Source: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/ocean-plastic-pollution-sources-impacts-solutions)

What efforts are being made to clean up the ocean?

Efforts to clean up the ocean include local beach cleanups, international agreements to reduce plastic use, and innovative technologies like The Ocean Cleanup project, which aims to remove plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Governments and organizations are also working on improving waste management systems and promoting recycling to prevent further pollution. Public awareness campaigns continue to highlight the importance of reducing single-use plastics. (Source: https://theoceancleanup.com/)

How can individuals help reduce the amount of garbage in the ocean?

Individuals can help reduce the amount of garbage in the ocean by adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. This includes using reusable bags, bottles, and containers; properly disposing of waste; participating in local beach cleanups; and supporting legislation that aims to reduce plastic production and waste. Additionally, educating others about the impact of marine debris and advocating for change can lead to collective action and significant improvements. (Source: https://www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters/what-you-can-do-about-marine-debris)

More Info: NOAA

Discussion Comments

anon970127

I would have liked a map that pinpointed the areas of concentration to show to my kindergarten science classes. It's my opinion that small children have to be the target audience to begin to alleviate this horrid problem.

Chmander

Whether we realize it or not, as the world gets bigger, and more and more people throw their garbage away on a day to day basis, the trash keeps piling up. In my opinion, landfills and garbage patches are something that aren't covered enough, and many people aren't quite aware of. I mean sure, we all know where our trash goes in the morning, but have most people even seen a landfill? They're absolutely huge. Unless we work together to ensure that things like this are reduced, it will only be a matter of time before we run out of room.

Viranty

@Krunchyman - You do make a good point about the media not covering this as much as they should. Overall though, it may be because they have other issues to worry about as well. On the other hand though, I feel that sometimes, they only show you what they want you to see. Obviously, this isn't always the case, but it's definitely something to take into consideration. There are a lot of things about our planet we're not quite aware of, and that's because the media doesn't spend enough time covering it, if any at all.

harley940

Perhaps, someone should go out there with a garbage scow and clean up the patches. Although it just may be the scows that are dropping it in the first place. I would have thought the environmentalist groups would have been all over this issue.

Krunchyman

Wow, before reading this article, I had no idea that there was so much garbage in the ocean, and I find that very intriguing, if not a bit disturbing. Not to mention that this also leads me to wonder how all the trash ends up in the ocean in the first place. After all, isn't most (if not all) of our garbage taken to landfills? Taking this into consideration, there's no excuse that our ocean has so much trash. Just my thoughts, but perhaps one problem is because some landfills are close to the sea, some of it spills out there, drifting off into the unknown. An issue like this is certainly something the media should cover more often.

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