Posted by: waterworks | February 23, 2008

21. Water Miles (4) Pacific Garbage Patches

Of the 13 billion plastic liquid containers that were used in the UK alone last year, just three billion were recycled.  What became of the remaining ten billion empty bottles?  Many will have been destined for landfill.   A significant number of others undoubtedly found their way to the Pacific Ocean, carried by run-off and sewer discharge from urban areas.  The Pacific’s “Eastern Garbage Patch” is a rubbish-strewn region of its northern waters which comprises hundreds of square miles.  It was first encountered by researchers in 1999 who counted one million pieces of plastic per square mile, most of it in the form of tiny fragments (the result of attrition and other erosion processes).  Plastic is now believed to constitute 90 per cent of all rubbish floating in the oceans and the UN Environment Programme estimates that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.  Looking on the bright side of life, if the fragments of old water bottles and other plastics are pale enough in colour then they could have a higher albedo than the surrounding waters.  This would result in the reflection of greater amounts of sunlight, leading to marginally less warming of the Pacific Ocean – all of which might go some small way towards tackling climate change.

Read more on plastic waste here and more on ocean circulation weirdness here.



  1. […] sea turtles and other marine animals (who are haplessly swallowing large quantities of bags, or fragments of bags) has been another powerful driver for change.  Both sets of motivations appear genuinely […]

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