The Dead Zone – plastic fcuktastic.

“plastic ocean”

Plastic. We all know it well. We all use it. Our oceans know it well too. The dead zones within oceans are becoming plastic junk yards where 100’s of miles of plastic crap can be found. Not fresh oceans producing a fresh catch of fish for your family’s dinner. No, instead you may have to rely on serving up a meal of oily plastic. Well, at least it would be colourful.

The North Pacific subtropical high—the big “H” on weather maps— protects Southern California’s enviable weather by pushing storms north or south. The H is the eye of a circle of currents thousands of miles wide called the North Pacific gyre. The high’s weak winds and sluggish currents naturally collect flotsam, earning it the unfortunate nickname of the “Eastern Garbage Patch.” Similar wind and current patterns exist in all the major oceans, and all presumably suffer from similar contamination.

Because most plastics are lighter than seawater, they float on the surface for years, slowly breaking down into smaller and smaller fragments—which often end up in the ocean’s drifting, filter-feeding animals, like jellyfish.

A gentleman from California, Charles Moore, has sailed his research vessel through these plastic junk yards for 100s of miles, never to find their end.

This is his story; Plastic Ocean

International Pellet Watch
, yes this is a real organisation, has very useful info on how pellets manage to pollute all areas.

And just in case you were thinking its only a problem for the Pacific Ocean here’s a very good article about the Atlantic Ocean, from another sailing researcher; Sailing on a sea of plastic.

Update: (31/10/07) For the latest report on the Pacific gyre trash zone click here.

This entry was posted in Biodiversity, Business, Disease, Education, Food & Agriculture, General, Nature & Conservation, Oceans, Pollution, Recycling, Sustainablity, Transport, Waste, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Dead Zone – plastic fcuktastic.

  1. Stephan says:

    Plastics are extremely important packaging materials; specifically, they protect our foods from contamination and decay, they are cheap to produce – in terms feedstock, fabrication techniques and energy usage – and they are relatively light. Think of the energy used in transporting just the packaging element of a bottle of Ketchup made of glass (which takes 100,000 years to break down in land fill) compared with plastic (which should break down in 1000 years). The cost of recycling plastics is much lower than for most other packaging materials item-for-item even compared those that are naturally derived. Also, because they are manmade, there is the potential to manipulate their properties to give better applicational and environmental performance, and work in this area continues. ‘Plastics don’t pollute, people do’.

  2. matt says:

    ‘Plastics don’t pollute, people do’.

    Yes, there in lies the problem. What your comment doesn’t deal with is the huge problem of wildlife ingesting pellets and plastic bags or, getting caught up in old netting. The result is they die. If a container load of ketchup goes overboard and it’s bottled in glass bottles, at least they sink to the bottom of the sea!

  3. Stephan says:

    Is it a huge problem, where is the data on that. We tend to see the corpses on the beach but what per cent of the affected populations do these represent? And, leaving aside the fact that a full bottle would sink be it packaged in plastic or glass, I’d like to think it would be easier to clean up a floating ‘red tide’ rather than the ocean floor Ketchup time bomb you seem to prefer (fish and chips with that). I didn’t have you down as an ‘out-of-sight-out-of-mind’ type of guy Matt:) But seriously, to me the answer is to be found in recycling, education, full-social-cost pricing, packing design that takes environmental impacts into account (for example avoiding loops that can entrap sea creatures) and research into biodegradables. Maybe we should convert the boats currently overfishing the North Sea into plastics skimmers, they could then sell it on the China at the going rate of £200 per tonne, then at least then our imported plastic products could remain cheap, and be more eco-friendly to boot:)

  4. Stephan says:

    Oh, and I just noticed you changed the picture; much more of the topic:)

  5. matt says:

    You’re right. I prefer my ketchup afloat 🙂 .

    I was thinking about the practicalities of skimming. It obviously must be done but, they’d have to be well designed and purpose built boats. Otherwise they’d go over.

    A lot of statistics for ocean related activities aren’t available, probably because most of it is part of the commons. The sailing researchers I’ve linked to give anecdotal evidence when compared to scientific analysis but, International Pellet Watch does more researched ‘research’!

    The problem is definitely out there though Stephan.

  6. Stephan says:

    I’m sure there is a problem, I’ve seen such plastics pollution myself and it should be tackled for aesthetic reasons if nothing else. However, plastics are on the whole inert – that’s why we wrap our food in them. I would just like to get some feel of the impact on marine life compared with other – toxic – pollutants we discharge into the seas. Are the impacts of using plastics so bad on this ecosystem that we should forgo their use and all of the significant energy resource savings they provide – especially as the problem seems to be caused by our own laziness or is there another way?

  7. matt says:

    Check out the link to International Pellet Watch within my original post.

  8. Stephan says:

    I did, the article describes the use of accidental spills of pellets as a means of determining the concentrations of man-made toxic chemicals in the oceans, the pellets themselves are not considered toxic – they may not even be pollution, as some definitions of this term would need there to be negative effects on human societies – this appears to be serendipitous. This is a different issue to what appears the be the main thrust of your original article, or maybe I just didn’t get It 😦

  9. matt says:

    I believe the main thrust of the article (and it’s linked articles) is that plastics debris in a marine environment is foreign to that environment and causes problems for species within it. The problems of old netting drifting about is obvious enough. Birds diving down to catch and eat peices of floating plastic that they mistaken for food is a problem obviously for their stomaches. Pellets being digested on the ocean floor cause the same problems.

    Pollution in a marine environment is often associated with an oil spill. I think we need to widen the definition of ‘pollution’.

  10. Pete Smith says:

    “However, plastics are on the whole inert – that’s why we wrap our food in them.”

    That’s a matter of opinion; I seem to remember that toxic chemicals leach out in water as the plastics degrade. On a longer timescale than the lifecycle of the average domestic food packaging, but still not good. The small plastic fragments also act as concentrators for toxic chemicals.

    On the subject of food packaging, the Devon village of Modbury has completely dispensed with plastic bags and wrappings. The local butcher wraps his meat in sheets of corn starch-based material, which are completely biodegradable. Why do we still use plastic for such ephemeral purposes?

  11. Stephan says:

    “Why do we still use plastic for such ephemeral purposes?”

    Because it is currently cheap relative to the alternatives, it is light, durable, transparent, can be formulated into semi permiable membranes that allow foods to remain fresh for longer, doesn’t degrade quickly so results in stable non-methane producing landfill that can be brought back into use for housing or farming more rapidly, the list goes on:)

    • YZ says:

      Do you even know the recycling process with plastics? Most plastics from curbside recycling don’t even get recycled or converted into new containers. There are many misconceptions about recycling that you should look up on. When plastic is recycled, new plastic is injected every time whereas glass can be just melted down or rinsed out since glass doesn’t absorb. Recycling plastic also takes ten times more energy than other products. Why do they say, “reduce, reuse, recycle?” It’s because you’re supposed to do it in that order!!

      You keep bringing up the fact that plastic is cheaper. Well, that is just the capitalist in you talking because cost is just something humans fabricated and is so trivial in the larger scheme of things. Humans are so egocentric and far too ignorant of all the other creatures living on this earth. It is so parochial for people to think plastic is the only way when with our technology today there are far more sustainable and effective packaging methods than just plastic.

  12. matt says:

    > ‘…doesn’t degrade quickly so results in stable non-methane producing landfill that can be brought back into use for housing or farming more rapidly…’

    Now you’re just being provocative.

    I agree with Pete that there are good reasons why packaging such as he describes should be used. Plastics however suit our supermarket buying habits for the longer freshness/shelf life.

    I heard something on the radio yesterday about an MP wanting to get rid of plastic bags in the UK. It may have been Miliband himself. Can’t smoke cigarettes in cafe’s & pubs so why not ban plastic bags from shops. 🙂

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  14. becca says:

    this is very helpful thanks

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  18. shiquiting says:

    Excellent discussion! We all use plastics, but we dont’n want to see our used bottles, or we don’t like to see our plastic bags covering the garden, it is a matter of being conscious and see that we are putting this garbage above ourselves. Plastic may cause death by sofocation.

    sorry about my english!

  19. Taetum Call says:

    I think that we should not put plastic or any harmful things in the oceans waters. I think that its important to keep our oceans clean and not make them a polluted area in our environment. We need to make them a clean and safe area for the creatures of the ocean and for humans also. So we really need to try to keep our Oceans not polluted.

    I believe that plastic bags should be disposed from our grocery stores and we should use more paper bags. And plastic bags can suffocate people also.

  20. Kirsty says:

    Try working in a supermarket for a day and see how much of the problem with plastic bags particularly is caused by peoples ignorance and stubborness, I work for major chain and see people walk out the bags for things that could so easily be carried without bags. The trouble is that most people don’t know that plastic bags can be recycled in fact a big percentage of people actually believe that the bags they get from supermarkets are biodegradable. As to any comments about recycling, most people may not be aware that there is glut of recyclable products out there resulting in a situation where it is now almost financial folly to bother to do so. What does this mean? Basically that more and more rubbish is headed to landfill because it is not worth the cost to spend any extra time in the process of sorting and cleaning for the purpose of recycling. Where supermarkets were once getting $10 a bundle for plastic bags from recyclers there are now so many being brought in that they are only getting about $1 per bundle. Consequently they are now hiding their recycling bins out of sight of consumers in most locations.

    My store alone uses over 36,000 plastic bags a week and the roll-out of self serve checkouts is causing the numbers to rise steadily. Times that by the number of supermarkets you know of in your local area then start to think about your state, your country….


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