Why Is There A Big Patch Of Garbage In The Pacific Ocean?

Feb 15, 2019

Why is there a big patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean? Four-year-old Leon has heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and he wants to know what the deal is. So we speak with someone who's actually been there! Teen Vogue News and Politics Editor Alli Maloney visited the garbage patch last year for a series called Plastic Planet. But in this episode we'll also explore how young people are becoming activists, trying to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced, waste that sometimes goes into the ocean. Anika Ballent, with the non-profit Algalita, shares what kids can and have been doing.


"Why is there a big patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean?" - Leon, 4, Minneapolis, MN

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area in the middle of the ocean between California/Mexico and Hawaii where there's a high concenration of plastic waste. The Garbage Patch is a really big spot: 1.6 million square kilometers, almost 618,000 square miles.

This part of the Pacific Ocean is known as the North Pacific Gyre. A gyre is like a very slow moving whirlpool where ocean currents circulate. As these water currents swirl around, they collect all of this ocean trash into a concentrated location. There are three big garbage patches and the most famous one is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Read Alli Maloney's article in Teen Vogue.

Alli Maloney, News and Politics Editor for Teen Vogue, visited the garbage patch with Greenpeace for the series Plastic Planet.
Credit Tabor Wordelman

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch doesn't look like a big island of trash, although there are some big pieces of plastic floating on the surface. The water actually looks murky and it's filled with tiny pieces of plastic, sometimes called micro-plastics that go all the way down through the water column.

Where does all this plastic come from? Around the world more than 380 million tons of plastic is produced and half of that is single-use plastic, stuff that's used for a few moments and then thrown away, like plastic grocery bags, water bottles and straws. Some of that plastic waste ends up in the ocean. Only about 9 percent of all plastic that's ever been made has been recycled.

It's nearly impossible to get those tiny pieces of plastic out of the ocean, and it can cause lots of problems for our health and for the environment.

But around the world, policies have been enacted to reduce the amount of plastic produced. And you can take action too by reducing the amount of single-use plastic your family uses.

Find resources for learning more about ocean plastics with Agalita.

Click listen to hear the entire episode. 

Plastics in the ocean has an impact on wildlife.
Credit Tabor Wordelman