Thursday, 10 May 2012

100-fold increase in North Pacific plastic waste

When caught at the checkout without my own shopping bags last week I was utterly shocked at the amount of plastic bags that were used to pack my groceries. Some plastic bags were even packed with one single item?!  While most of our plastic waste ends up in landfill, a significant amount of it gets washed out to sea where it is slowly degraded by sunlight and the action of waves.

A recent study published by Scripps researchers document a 100-fold increase in plastic waste in the middle of the North Pacific. Out here, where few people go, the ocean circulation patterns accumulate floating debris into massive garbage patches. The Scripps researchers found that the plastic particles, some of which are about the size of a fingernail, provided rafts for a marine invertebrate (Halobates) to lay its eggs.

When thinking about this problem the issue that comes to mind is plastic toxicity. This article is interesting because it discusses the wider ecosystem effects of all of those plastic objects making their way into our oceans: by creating additional solid surfaces and numerous new habitats for microbes and larger organisms this waste has the potential to change the the ecosystem structure in the open ocean. It makes me wonder whether we will soon be describing new species that have adapted to living in the shade of floating plastic particles?

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