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The Great Pacific Trash Patch: What You Need To Know

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic digestion and entanglement. To put that into perspective, the number of dead marine creatures last year from plastic would fill two Yankee Stadiums.

If I was going to talk to one million people and only spoke to each person for 60 seconds and did this for eight hours a day, it would take me 5.7 years to speak to everyone. That’s how many seabirds are dying per year.

So what exactly is killing these animals? Trillions of pounds of trash. The Great Pacific Trash Patch is almost twice the size of the continental United States. However, not every piece of trash is visible. Most of the plastic killing creatures are what are called “microplastics.” Because plastic does not biodegrade normally, it simply breaks down into smaller pieces over time. They become invisible bits of trash that are digested by animals and clog their systems. Animals that ingest it either starve to death because no food can pass the bits of plastic or the plastic cuts them from inside out. There are four billion of these microplastic fragments per square kilometer in the trash patch.

Plastic that does break downturns into toxic chemicals and polymers that kill marine life by their gills absorbing the water around them.

Imagine if all the air around you hurt. You could not breathe without stinging pains constantly and over time, you would breathe less and less until you suffocate. That is what we are doing to our marine life.

With large pieces of trash in the patch, they tend to sink to the bottom of the ocean and kill off the coral reefs that thrive on sunlight through the water. Without coral, many marine animals such as clownfish (our beloved Nemo) have no home and are exposed to the ocean current and quickly dies from predators.

This is a huge problem that just keeps getting bigger. The trash heap has 100 times more plastic than it did in 1997 according to a 2014 study. Imagine having one dog in 1997 and by 2014, you have 100 dogs. That’s too much, too soon.

So, what can we do about this? Well, although recycling is the first idea that everyone comes up with, it actually not very feasible. First of all, only a fraction of places who say they recycle do according to the New York Times. Secondly, it’s not cost-effective to recycle and although we should let go of the economic side for the scientific, it is a capitalist world and if you lose money, it just won’t happen.

The best thing to do to save our animals, our environment and our home planet is to stop making plastics altogether. There are hundreds of materials that are biodegradable and cost-effective, we just haven’t done enough research.

So put down that water bottle, that plastic packaging and plastic bags and reduce your waste. If everyone cuts down their waste by even 1/3rd, the trash patch would start shrinking again.

Do your good for the world and Happy Earth Day. 

Mary McLean (nee Moody) is an avid writer and the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus at VCU. She is currently double majoring in Political Science and History at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has published three novels and is working on her fourth. She loves her cats Sully and Remy and will always mention them in every conversation. You can find her looking at memes all night and chugging KickStart in the morning with her husband.
Keziah is a writer for Her Campus. She is majoring in Fashion Design with a minor in Fashion Merchandising. HCXO!