The Size of the Pacific Garbage Patch Is "Grossly Exaggerated" The Size of the Pacific Garbage Patch Is "Grossly Exaggerated"
Environment

The Size of the Pacific Garbage Patch Is "Grossly Exaggerated"

by Andrew Price

January 8, 2011

Back in 2007, news started circulating about a giant patch of plastic trash—described as being "twice the size of Texas"—floating in the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii. Since then, the "pacific garbage patch" has drawn a lot of attention. Vice went to visit it. Chris Jordan made it the subject of an affecting art project featuring photographs of birds who had died from eating scraps of plastic. Electrolux promised to recycle the waste to make vacuum cleaners. We made an infographic.

But a new study says that the most alarming estimates about the size of the garbage patch are way off. Yale e360 summarizes the findings:

Following a literature review and an expedition to better understand the abundance of plastic in the North Pacific, Oregon State University researcher Angelicque White concluded that the “cohesive” plastic patch is actually less than 1 percent of the size of Texas, contrary to other estimates about the extent of the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Related claims that the oceans contain more plastic than plankton, and that the patch has grown tenfold each decade since the 1950s, are also incorrect, White said. “There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists,” White said.

That, or the credibility of the media.

The problem is still enormous though. According to White, removing the plastic from the ocean would take 250 times the energy required to create it in the first place. The emphasis, she says, should be on preventing trash from getting into the water in the first place.

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The Size of the Pacific Garbage Patch Is "Grossly Exaggerated"