Thursday, February 07, 2008

Next Stop, Garbage Island!

Apparently, garbage island, the destination of the barge on which Homer Simpson lands while escaping from a proselytizing Ned Flanders, is real. The Independent has a report about a "plastic soup" of garbage in the Pacific that is twice the size of the continental United States. According to the report:
The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world's largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.


The "soup" is actually two linked areas, either side of the islands of Hawaii, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches. About one-fifth of the junk – which includes everything from footballs and kayaks to Lego blocks and carrier bags – is thrown off ships or oil platforms. The rest comes from land.


Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer and leading authority on flotsam, has tracked the build-up of plastics in the seas for more than 15 years and compares the trash vortex to a living entity: "It moves around like a big animal without a leash." When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. "The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic," he added.
The majority of the "soup" appears to be plastic. Recently, there has been increasing movement in cities, localities, and even countries to move away from the use of plastics, particularly in grocery bags. One can only anticipate that the existence of 100 million tons of floating garbage covering thousands of miles of ocean will increase international pressure to reduce the amount of plastics waste produced. I would fully expect that the UN, or some other international environmental entity, will take this issue up in the near future.

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