3.5 million tons of garbage, 80% of which is plastic, float somewhere between the coast of California and Hawaii. Scientists believe that there is six times more plastic than plankton in the ocean, and these numbers are expected to increase. This large body of floating trash is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and is trapped in the Pacific Ocean by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. It is clear that a lot of sea life, big and small, is in danger because of the pollution of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This trash does not biodegrade; it only breaks into smaller pieces. The floating pieces of plastic can be mistaken for zooplankton and unintentionally consumed by animals such as jellyfish. Besides particle dangers, the debris can also absorb organic pollutants from seawater.
So far, no one has stepped up to take the initiative to detoxify this massive garbage dump. But it is imperative that we all work together in order significantly to reduce this toxic waste. Given the massive span of our oceans, this task is not just daunting but also difficult to implement, yet it has to be done to protect our ecosystems, environment, and food chain. The Texas-sized garbage patch is killing the marine life that is ingesting this trash and also killing everything else in the vicinity of the garbage patch.
My humanities class decided to take action and do our small part. Our class of about 100 people went to Big Way Beach in the South of Hong Kong. What we saw there was unbelievable. Some distance from the beach, unknown to most visitors, was a massive dump of trash, mostly consisting of Styrofoam and plastic. At first, our goal was to clean up a notable amount but after we saw its depth, that goal was obviously unreachable. I can confidently say that more than half of that waste was plastic bottles. What makes it worse is that I have probably contributed to this heap of junk. Attempting to clean it up in the blistering heat really makes you think about how much our ignorance is hurting the planet.
Unfortunately, the problem is not confined to one patch; researchers have discovered another garbage patch in the Atlantic Ocean. Although it is not as extensive as The Great Pacific, it still demonstrates that human consumerism is getting way out of hand.
People have become increasingly conscious about recycling over the past few years, but it’s not enough. There are small ways in which we can reduce our plastic use. When we buy a Subway sandwich, for example, the employees always put the sandwich, already wrapped in paper, into a plastic bag. We use that plastic bag for maybe a few minutes, at best, but we really could do without it. If Subway were to discontinue its use of that plastic bag, thousands of pounds of plastic could be saved.
Much can be accomplished through the increased participation of the private sector and civil society. Through education, we can promote awareness of the importance of our oceans, fisheries, and marine life. Individuals should take responsibility for the products they consume and disposal of those wastes. As a people, we need to adopt a greener lifestyle for a sustainable environment.
By Arshia Bhatia, former Scarsdale student and a current freshman at a school in Hong Kong.