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The North Pacific Garbage Patch—What Can You Do About It?

by Joey

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The North Pacific Garbage Patch is a flotilla of trash that may be twice the size of Texas. The culprit? Plastic. Why bamboo and other environmentally sound materials can help turn things around.

Depending on the report you happen to stumble across, the man-made environmental disaster known as the North Pacific Garbage Patch may be almost twice the size of the state of Texas, in terms of square miles. You may be asking yourself right now, what is the North Pacific Garbage Patch (NPGP, for the purposes of this post) and how did it get so big?

To start, let's give a brief explanation of ocean currents in the northern Pacific. In essence, four distinct Pacific oceanic currents north of the equator intersect in a region estimated at more than 10 million square miles. These currents, the California Current from the east, the North Equatorial Current from the south, the Kuroshio Current from the west and the North Pacific Current from the north work together to create a subtle whirlpool, or gyre. Perish the thought from your mind of a fairy tale-style tempestuous maelstrom--the whirlpool is slow and steady and far too large to actually see with the naked eye. But the net result of this confluence of wind and water movements is that a large region of sea is more or less flowing in a continuous clockwise circle. So, anything caught within these current patterns is destined to float in a large circle for the foreseeable future, or perhaps the next few thousand years.

You've probably guessed where we're going with this. Due to years of industrial manufacturing, shipping, waste disposal, weather patterns and other artificial and natural factors, an enormous, basically immeasurable amount of floating garbage, most of it plastic, has begun to collect in the NPGP. Actually, it began a long time ago, but it's only recently become a noticeable problem. And, according to some reports, the problem may be bigger than just a monumental mass of dirty water. Because the vast majority of this floating detritus is composed of plastic, primarily small pieces of plastic that will not decompose, this development reflects a gradual non-ceasing accumulation that, at its worst, could begin to coat every surface on the face of the earth--whether land, sea or air.

The truly scary part, as reported in this story from CDNN (http://www.cdnn.info/news/article/a071104.html), is the supposition that many of the chemical additives in this plastic are highly toxic not only to the marine life in the Pacific, but to every living creature on Earth. Put simply, some of these petroleum-based polymers cause liver and reproductive failures and play havoc with our digestive tracts, among other things. And unfortunately for us, these harmful agents have already made their way directly into our bloodstreams. Take a sample of your blood to be analyzed, and you might be surprised to find that there are hundreds of synthetically manufactured chemical compounds--the kinds found often in plastic materials--flowing through your arteries. Some have stipulated that the exponential buildup in the world's plastic waste, most clearly evidenced by the NPGP, may be indirectly responsible for scores of global health concerns, not the least of which is obesity and diabetes in the Western world.

So, doom and gloom aside, what can we do? Well, we probably won't be endeavoring any time soon to spend the billions of dollars it will cost to clean up this mess. But we can hopefully stop it from growing so rapidly. You can start at home right now by purchasing and using household products that do not contribute to this modern catastrophe. Avoid plastics and buy wood and bamboo products, of course. But also read up on companies with responsible manufacturing and distribution practices. Educate yourself today, and buy some time for tomorrow.

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