What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which consists entirely of plastic debris and waste, spans approximately 1.6 million square kilometres, that’s roughly twice the size of Texas.

Somewhere between Hawaii and California, in the temperate waters of the Pacific Ocean, lies an island that has scarcely been visited by humans. It is one of the few man-made locations on the globe that has yet to be colonized.

Contrary to other secluded must-visit islands in the Pacific ocean, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a luxurious get-away spot.

Spanning approximately 1.6 million square kilometres, or twice the size of Texas, the Great Pacific Garbage patch is a build up of plastics and other debris. It is the largest of the five off-shore plastic accumulation zones in the world, according to The Ocean Cleanup, a Netherlands-based non-profit organization that is developing advanced technologies in an effort to rid the oceans of plastic.

While organizations such as The Ocean Cleanup are building technologies to help clean the waters, individuals are also adding to the cause like the French-American man Benoît Lecomte, who swam the length of the garbage patch to collect data and raise awareness.

In 2019, Lecomte set out to swim 300 nautical miles, or just under two kilometres, alongside a crew boat. The accompanying scientists collected data to track the movement of the plastics and marine life. He began his journey in Japan on June 5, with the intent to swim up to eight hours per day for three months.

Lecomte, who in 1998 swam across the Atlantic Ocean in just 73 days in support of cancer research, said he wanted to do something to bring attention to the increasing amount of plastic in our oceans, in an interview with Austin 360.

“We saw a lot of items we use on land, like plastic cups, straws, forks and spoons and oil containers,” Lecomte told Austin 360. “It was depressing because you see amazing sea life, then you see the plastic that we infect the oceans with, and it’s not supposed to be there.”

Accompanied by scientists from NASA and the University of Hawaii, Lecomte ended his journey on Nov. 11, 2019, though he did not complete it. Despite the thought of not finishing the expedition being among his greatest fears before setting out on his journey, he said that all he can do going forward is to turn people’s attention towards plastic pollution.

“I think that’s the problem — we don’t think it’s that big of a problem, but it’s all due to what we do on land,” Lecomte told Austin 360.

In fact, 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year from rivers, according to a study by Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer and the head of research at The Ocean Cleanup. 

According to Lebreton’s study, because of plastic’s “durability, low-recycling rates, poor waste management and maritime use, a significant portion of the plastics produced worldwide enters and persists in marine ecosystems.”

The density of these plastics is less than that of the water, allowing them to rise to the surface and be transported from smaller bodies of water, such as rivers and streams, to the ocean.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is bound by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, which is what draws the plastic and other waste together. A gyre is a large system of rotating ocean currents, as defined by the National Ocean Service. In other words, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is part of a giant vortex of debris. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre consists of four of these “vortices” rotating in a clockwise direction.

The centre of these four currents forms the most dense area of the garbage patch. However, as per a 2018 study conducted by Lebreton on the rapid rate at which the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is accumulating plastic, it is estimated that if the less dense outer region of the garbage patch were considered when estimating the mass of the patch, the total would weigh approximately 100,000 tonnes.

In the same 2018 study, Lebreton and his team estimated that 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and waste were floating in the patch. According to Lebreton, this would be 250 pieces of garbage for every individual on the planet.

At an estimate of around 40,000 pieces, the majority of the waste consists of plastic ropes and fishing lines, followed by hard plastic items. While it may seem as though these items are easy to remove, it is, in fact, the opposite. As large hard plastics break down within the garbage patch, sun exposure, waves, and other environmental factors cause them to deteriorate into microplastics, which are virtually invisible to the human eye.

According to the National Ocean Service, these microplastics are often mistaken for food by marine life, putting them in danger. A 2018 study in the journal Environmental Pollution found that “half of the fecal samples and one-third of the mackerels contained microplastics.”

For the time being, microplastics remain a problem that is unresolvable, but that hasn’t stopped The Ocean Cleanup from developing new missions to clean up The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

System 002, which is part of their second clean-up mission, is planned to be a system that is able to “endure and retain the collected plastic for long periods of time.” It is set to be ready for 2021 in an effort to fulfill their goal of reducing the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans by at least 90 per cent by 2040.

Visit The Ocean Cleanup’s website for more information.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


The final straw in ignoring the disabled community

The straw ban might help the environment, but it completely disregards one group of people

The excessive pollution the Earth has been plagued with in the last few decades is no secret to anyone. One can simply take a stroll down any beach to realize how we have failed to maintain a certain level of purification. Discarding cigarette butts, beer bottles and plastic water bottles in the sand and the ocean, as if the world is our dumpster. Shame on us. What happened to the world being our oyster?

In spite of the blatant disregard some humans have for the planet, one cannot ignore the numerous initiatives taken against excess pollution, urging individuals to take action. Greenpeace, for example, is a world-renowned organization aiming to restore the Earth to its former clean-slate glory and minimize environmental crises as best they can.

Lately, many countries and even some corporations around the world have taken it upon themselves to reduce plastic waste by banning plastic straws, since it is one of the many sources of ocean pollution. While this may be a step in the right direction for environmental issues, there is one thing that has not been taken into consideration.

When political, social or environmental solutions are discussed among government officials, I imagine they have a list of people they wish to please. Will this benefit women in general? Do we fear negative repercussions for people of colour? Are we sure the LGBTQ+ community is not badly affected by this? I am by no means critical when using this caricatural image of governmental discussion concerning serious matters. On the contrary, I believe I am being quite utopian when I say governments actually take all these people into consideration when making decisions.

Nonetheless, throughout the years, certain decisions have been made for the benefit of the aforementioned communities. And yet, more often than not, a specific group of people are blatantly disregarded: the disabled community. Disabled individuals may have their own parking spots, but even those get stolen by disrespectful people. I have even noticed at times, public transport isn’t accomodating to individuals in wheelchairs.

And now, while the ban on plastic straws is helpful to the environment, it is detrimental to a significant portion of the disabled community. It is a wonderful step toward bettering the planet, something even the disabled community doesn’t fail to applaud cities for. However, people seem to forget that the purpose of straws is not just to make your iced coffee easier to drink; it is vital to many disabled people’s lives.

I am by no means well-equipped to say this nor do I speak on behalf of the community, as an able-bodied woman. Nonetheless, I do not fail to see that more often than not, they are being ignored.

British YouTuber and TV presenter Jessica Kellgren-Fozard explained her take on the matter in an 11-minute video, stating that as a disabled woman, the ban of plastic straws was “the last straw.” It is another instance where the disabled community has been ignored. Diagnosed at 17 with hereditary neuropathy with liability to pressure palsies, she has difficulty gripping objects due to her weak limbs. Therefore, the use of plastic straws in her everyday life is vital.

In the video, Kellgren-Fozard explained that while the ban is helpful for the environment, plastic straw pollution only accounts for 0.025 per cent of oceanic pollution. It kind of makes you wonder why there is a sudden insistence on banning straws when there are far worse things to take care of, right?

I personally believe this governmental initiative (adopted by the US, U.K., and parts of Montreal, among others) is a step in the right direction. However, it is not perfect, as members of the disabled community have highlighted. It also made me think how we are often quick to take into account gender equality, racial issues and sexuality, but disabled people are oftentimes forgotten. While taking positive steps like banning plastic in general to help the environment is good, we shouldn’t forget about certain groups of people who might be deeply affected by such a ban. I believe with constant communication and learning, we can all build towards a clean planet suitable for all.

Graphic by spooky_soda



Clean face, dirty world: microbeads in our waters

Small plastics are filling up our rivers and our stomachs

What does toothpaste, skin cream, and the St. Lawrence River have in common? Millions upon millions of plastic beads.

Evidence of this large scale pollution was brought to light two weeks ago when researchers from McGill University and the Government of Quebec came forward with their results. As reported in the Montreal Gazette on Sept. 26, the team found “over 1,000 microbeads per litre of sediment, a magnitude that rivals the world’s most contaminated ocean sediments”.

Plastic microbeads are often found in cosmetic and hygiene products, such as toothpaste. The beads are rapidly polluting Canada’s waterways, such as the St. Lawrence river and the Great Lakes. (Source: Camera Eye Photography / Flickr)

If this weren’t cause enough for concern, according to Alex Tyrrell, leader of the Green Party of Quebec and environmental science student at Concordia University, there is a real danger “that the microbeads will accumulate in the waterways and manage their way back up the food chain.” In addition to the fact that these beads are made of plastic, Tyrrell cites that there have been some claims that they may also absorb toxins already present in the river.

Although particles are typically filtered out of the water supply before it is returned to the river, according to Tyrrell, the beads are simply too small. In addition, he states that any operation which could be used to remove the plastic would be too expensive to implement due both to the size of the particles in question and of the river itself.

The questions cosmetic consumers need to be asking themselves is why. Why do the companies who make these products feel the need to add microbeads in the first place? Well, plastic has been added into skin creams to exfoliate dead skin cells. It has also been added to toothpastes for purely aesthetic reasons. According to Dr. Euan Swan, a spokesperson with the Canadian Dental Association, in an interview with Global News on Sept. 23, “the beads serve no functional purpose in toothpaste”. What’s troubling is that some of these beads are being swallowed inadvertently by those who use such products.

What the individual can do is move away from using products that contain microbeads. There are many products on the market that contain biodegradable substances instead of plastic. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, and Unilever have agreed to remove microbeads from their product lines.

Another way to join the fight against this type of pollution is by pushing for legislation against the use of such ingredients. At the time of writing, the state of Illinois is the only place in North America where microbeads are banned. The Green Party of Quebec is hoping to change this.

“[The Green Party] are calling on the provincial government to ban plastic micro beads from all personal hygiene products,” said Tyrell. “Doing so would very quickly stop further pollution from occurring. It is also our feeling that once a handful of jurisdictions have banned the plastics that the manufactures will extend their ban across the entire content in order to have uniform distribution.”

The inclusion of micro beads in cosmetics and toothpaste is unnecessary and harmful to both our environment and ourselves. Together we can send a message and make a difference.

To learn more about the issue and sign the petition to ban microbeads in Quebec go to:

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