Some researchers believe that more than five million square miles of the Pacific Ocean has become a garbage patch of plastic trash from North America and Asia. The trash is carried from shorelines by ocean currents to an area called the Pacific Gyre. Plastic products make up the bulk of the trash researchers found in the area because plastics don't decompose.
Now, scientists are trying to quantify the problem and are studying how plastic affects fish, marine mammals and birds. This report, by NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels, shows how researchers gather the garbage evidence at sea and what how they are monitoring the wildlife for signs the garbage is having an impact on the ecosystem.
Some cities are also trying to do their part by finding ways to trap and dispose of debris and litter that would normally end up washed out into the ocean. Others are calling for increased recycling efforts, though researchers are skeptical that optional recycling can make a difference.
"It's a very circuitous route, maybe taking five years for a piece of our trash to get out to the gyre... so that you get kind of a toilet bowl effect of dragging the debris from the rim and bringing it into the center." - Charles Moore, ocean researcher
"[The Albatross] body cavities are full of huge chunks of many types of plastics, from toothbrushes to bottle caps to needles and syringes. They can't get them up. They can't get them out. And it's heartbreaking." - Myra Finkelstein, University of California, Santa Cruz
"An estimated 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from eating or becoming entangled in debris, most of it plastic, according to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center." - Spencer Michels, NewsHour correspondent
"That water is picking up whatever is in the street, whether it's leaves, debris, like plastic bags." - Kim O'Cain, Santa Monica Water Resources
1. Where does trash end up once you throw it away?
2. What does decompose mean? Name some items that decompose and some that don't.
1. Does it surprise you that so much trash ends up in the ocean? Why or why not?
2. What do you think should be done to deal with this problem? Who should be responsible for trying to fix it?
3. Charles Moore said in the report that he thinks there is too much trash to clean up. Do you think trying to prevent more trash from ending up in the ocean is enough or should some clean-up effort be attempted? Explain your answer.
4. How could you reduce the amount of plastic waste you create?
Special Reports: Plastic Oceans:
Quiz: Plastic Pollution: