Each American produces about 4.3 pounds of garbage every day. That is a whopping 220 million tons of pure, Grade A, American trash each year. Fortunately, about 55% of this trash finds its way into one of the approximately 3,500 solid landfills in the United States. But where does the other 45% go? Some of this waste gets recycled and some gets burned, but an alarming amount of this 220 million tons of trash finds its way into the world’s oceans and freshwater sources. That is about 18 million tons of plastic trash added to the oceans each year. Not uncomfortable yet? Consider these six facts about garbage.
Number One: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (AKA “Garbage Island”) is growing.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as “Garbage Island,” is a conglomeration of buoyant litter that has merged and formed two large, separate islands: one near California and the other near China, with a huge streak of “free floating” trash spanning in between. How do these islands form? Trash finds its way into the ocean, and, due to wave patterns, latches onto other trash to form a large mass. Basically: imagine throwing a handful of Legos into a toilet and flushing. The swirling of the water forces all of the Legos to stick together.
Why does Garbage Island matter? The bits of plastic floating in the ocean aren’t always the Coke bottles we “lovingly” throw out at the beach; both of the Garbage Islands are composed primarily of micro-plastic, which are teeny, tiny bits of broken-down plastic. This micro-plastic forms a type of “slush” that makes it extremely difficult – and sometimes deadly – for marine life to swim in certain areas of the ocean. To top that off, 80% of the mass of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from North America and Asia.
Number Two: Garbage in the ocean decomposes at a slow rate. As opposed to trash deposited in landfills (where methane – a decomposition aid – is produced from decaying trash), trash in the ocean breaks down very slowly. This slow rate of decomposition means that the amount of garbage in the world’s oceans “piles up” quickly.
Number Three: Oceanic Garbage Can Poison Freshwater Sources
Chemicals from floating ocean garbage leech out into the water. In some areas, these chemicals find their way into freshwater sources.
Number Four: Plastic trash pieces (specifically bits of plastic shopping bags) have been found in deep Arctic sea ice. Many major American cities are trying to outlaw the use of plastic shopping bags (hello, Austin!), and for good reason. When plastic garbage pieces decompose in the oceans, the lighter particles disperse to various places throughout the world. Some scientists have even found bits of shopping bag plastic in newly frozen Arctic ice. This means that North America and Asia’s trash is finding its way to all corners of the planet.
Number Five: Cola rings can be deadly. Cola rings can easily be seen as one of the most hazardous form of marine garbage. Why? Cola rings are clear and very light-weight, meaning that each set of rings can hang suspended in the ocean, and marine animals cannot see them. Many animals, like dolphins, suffer from torn snouts or even death from plastic cola rings.
Number Six: Your fast-food straw could kill a sea turtle. When you think about your trash and nature, I bet you didn’t think of fast-food straws lodged in the nostrils of sea turtles. I am not going to say anything else about this. Watch the video below. Warning: Graphic Depiction of Suffering Animal.