Plastic pollution has been a global issue for several decades. Everyday, inhumane amounts of trash enter the ocean, infecting the waters, killing innocent creatures and disrupting the extravagant beauty of the sea. And we are to blame. The leading location of plastic pollution in the ocean is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The patch ranges between Hawaii and California in what is known as the Western Garbage Patch, spreading to Japan, in what is known as the Eastern Garbage Patch. Over time, both patches have formed into one monumental vortex of plastic waste that consistently accumulates due to litter that cannot biodegrade. By explaining what the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is and how it has formed over the years, how society has unethically allowed the patch to increase, and what we can do to prevent the patch from getting any worse, we can begin to make a difference in this catastrophic position. In order to even begin repairing the patch, we need a religious, philosophical shift in society to address the ultimate problem. Although politics and economics do not necessarily restore the issue, religion and a revolution surely can.
For over 20 years, humans have allowed the patch to develop to its immense size. When one carelessly tosses debris to the ground, it may sit for months until it begins to rain. The rain then carries the debris either to draining systems or into streams, which typically lead to rivers. This process could take several years, but once the debris ends up in the rivers, it travels with the current for miles. Finally, after a long, strenuous journey through different waterways, the debris leaves the river and spills into the bay. It may sit there for years before it reaches the open ocean. Even if beachgoers leave garbage on the beach when they are visiting, the debris is typically taken back out to sea by the ocean’s harsh tides. Colossal, whirling currents carry most debris out into the hazardous garbage vortex, or what we refer to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Plastic remains in the vortex for year after year, unable to biodegrade and left to aimlessly drift with the currents, or be eaten by an unfortunate sea creature. The patch has led several to believe that it is visible through aerial photography and different forms of satellite, but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “while higher concentrations of litter items can be found in this area, along with other debris such as derelict fishing nets, much of the debris is actually small pieces of floating plastic that are not immediately evident to the naked eye” (NOAA, Marine Debris). The garbage is consistently intermingled by the actions of the waves and the wind and is eventually distributed throughout the surface of the water and the topmost layer of the water column. According to NOAA, “it is possible to sail through the “garbage patch” area and see very little to no debris on the water’s surface” (NOAA, Marine Debris). Most of the plastic is either floating under the water and cannot be seen, or has broken down into smaller micro plastic and is not visible from above on a ship.
Society has allowed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to drastically increase over the years. Humans from all over the world have contributed to the size of the patch; whether that was their underlying intention or not. If one purchases and disposes of any type of plastic merchandise, they become moderately responsible for a segment of plastic debris aimlessly drifting through the sea, waiting to join other plastic particles in the patch. Our lack of awareness has caused us to become a careless society that has evolved to nonchalantly toss debris to the ground and watch as our earth downwardly spirals into a global trash pit. We can blame the flourishing garbage patch primarily on how oblivious we are to the dilemma and how uninformed we have been about it. It is entirely unethical for us to sit back and watch our extravagant oceans undergo torment because we are too indolent to wake up and notice what we are doing. It is apparent that one of the best solutions for our society is to focus on the escalating issue from a more religious and Biblical standpoint. For example, in Genesis 1:28, the Creator, Himself, commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea” (Life in the Spirit Study Bible, 9). Society, in no way, is doing what was commanded of us. To replenish the earth is to nurture it and respect it; neither of which we are doing. We are watching our oceans, some of God’s greatest masterpieces, fall into an endless excavation of litter and plastic debris while we are doing absolutely nothing to help. God did not place humankind to have dominion over the fish of the sea so that we would destroy them, which is precisely what we have been accomplishing for many years. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to understand that what society proceeds to do is hazardous, not only to us but also to our earth. By simply reading the graphs on the Scales of Heterogeneity of Plastic Marine Debris in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, it is clear that we are murdering thousands of species of fish and birds due to them consuming excess plastic debris. These innocent animals think the plastic particles are a tasty snack like plankton, smaller fish, or even jellyfish, and soon face their deaths. The consumed plastic is not able to digest and soon the creatures either choke to death on dangerous pieces of plastic, or they die a slow and painful death caused by the unneeded presence of hazardous substances within their bodies. A multitude of studies have been performed so that scientists could try to understand the size of the patch. According to one study, Dianna Parker from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated that if one “tried to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean it would take 67 ships one year to clean up that portion. And the bottom line is that until we prevent debris from entering the ocean, it’s just going to keep congregating in these areas” (NOAA, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch). Even if we packed up and went out to sea to clean everything up, the same issue would continuously arise for as long as we allow rubbish the right to enter our oceans. The founder of the patch, Charles Moore, once stated that if a global action was taken to try to clean it up, every country would end up bankrupt. This would occur because there is no possible way that every country could afford to send ships out to sea to clean up such an extreme amount of rubbish. Fortunately, what Moore stated has not stopped individuals and different organizations from trying to prevent the patch from increasing even more.
Undoubtedly, it is unethical for us to watch this happen and claim that there is nothing we can do. It is evident that it would require a global action to repair a catastrophe as extravagant as this, but even one individual can help make a change. Scientists have concluded that by taking a global action by eliminating all the plastic that society uses and replacing them with biodegradable resources, we can help to restore the garbage patch. This can be affirmed in that plastic particles would no longer pollute the earth and congregate in certain areas only to sit for the next few decades until something unfortunate comes along and eats it. Biodegradable resources provide our society with another option and can also potentially help with restoring our earth. There are multiple other ways to prevent the patch from getting worse and if we took a global action to do those things, we would slowly begin to make a difference. First and foremost, it is obvious that individuals carelessly toss trash to the ground. We could begin by making sure that all of our litter ends up in a trashcan or another form of waste disposal. It would also positively benefit the ocean if we could learn to properly recycle everything we can- especially plastic. When visiting the beach we should be sure that we have cleaned up all of our garbage and that we have left no trace of anything that does not belong in the natural environment. Together, we could take action to try to bring our own washable plastic containers to the beach for picnics. That way, we eliminate the disposable plastic bags and are able to reuse the containers for other beach trips. Even actions as simple as making sure cigarette butts end up in ashtrays rather than on the sidewalks, roads, or beaches can positively change our environment. One of the most important things environmentalist Aldo Leopold ever stated, was when he claimed “no important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions” (Leopold, 5). If we could abide by what he stated over 60 years ago, we could globally discover that one of the easiest solutions we can find is a change within ourselves. Without an internal change, our oceans will only decline. From a more religious perspective, God claims in Leviticus 18:24-25 that “even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Life in the Spirit Study Bible, 194). We are persistently allowing the land to be defiled with the underlying thought that there is nothing we can do, when there are hundreds of actions and decisions that we can make on a daily basis to help resolve this conflict. Even an action as minor as informing family and friends about the patch and inspiring them to want to help put an end to marine debris can make all the difference in the world.
Our ocean’s utmost economic purpose has been weakened partly because of the absence of conservation education. Spreading the word about what we are doing can really make a prodigious difference. Doing something as helpful as joining or volunteering for a river or ocean cleanup attempt can work to help repair some damage done. Looking for alternative substances like glass bottles instead of plastic, recyclable juices and milks in cardboard cartons and paper bags can positively benefit us because we can keep reusing these items. Surprisingly, items like aluminum cans, plastic bags and bottles, old magazines or papers, and even some old electronic devices can be recycled and used for other efficient materials. Recycling can be one of the most positive and flourishing things that our earth ever experiences, but we must keep in mind that “garbage, clutter, and trash are concepts that have been constructed to carry with them undesirable sensorial qualities, but they remain highly transformational. A thing becomes trash once it is relocated” (Sounds like Garbage, 57). We have arrived to the point that it is time for society to attempt to get our government involved. Although this may not seem like an enormous issue to many representatives, it is a huge problem that our earth is facing. Once our precious earth begins facing problem, we too, in turn, begin to suffer with it. For example, scientist Rachel Obbard of Dartmouth College performed research in the Arctic sea with a student. They were looking for a particular form of algae that lived in different ice cores and when they began to filter the water, after it melted, they noticed numerous colorful pieces of plastic particles. According to their research, “Obbard and her colleagues estimate that up to seven trillion pieces of microplastic in total could be released as Arctic sea ice melts because of climate change. Some researchers say that summer in the Arctic may be ice-free around 2100. Others project it could happen within the next decade” (Scientific American, Plastic on Ice). Although most people would not believe that the Arctic has anything to do with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, both locations still contribute to the downfall of our oceans. Considering that almost every drain, in some form or another, leads to the ocean, it is understood that anything we allow to enter into our oceans has a negative global impact. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only thing being targeted, but now even other parts of the ocean are being affected. Today, the patch stands as “the largest uniform realm on Earth, stretching over 10 million square miles” (The Ecologist, Landfill-on-Sea) and it is evident that most countries are entirely unaware of how much damage our own garbage has done and is still continuing to do. Surely, scientists have altogether concluded that although recycling makes an immense change towards our environment and our oceans, we could more efficiently repair some of the damage done by completely eliminating the plastics we use. By replacing every bit of plastic that we use with biodegradable resources, we can help to repair not only the patch, but also our environment as a whole that is steadily being polluted by our own hands. As Al Gore once stated, “if we could find a way to understand our own connection to the earth- all the earth- we might recognize the danger of destroying so many living species” (Gore, 264). By fully comprehending what the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is and how it has drastically accumulated over the years, we can proceed to understand how unethical we have been and what we can do to futuristically prevent it from getting worse. Together, we can take a global action to recycle and be more careful with our shopping and where we allow our litter to go. Certainly, we have absent-mindedly allowed carelessness to become a lifestyle of ours and if we do not change the status quo, we will become it.