You may have seen plastic waste on the beach – broken buckets, pieces of packaging or old fishing nets. But this is only the tip of the rubbish iceberg. Out in the middle of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, in areas called subtropical gyres, huge amounts of plastic accumulate. The area in the Pacific is often known as the Pacific Garbage Patch.
In these areas, ocean currents converge, bringing any floating plastic along with them. The pieces can be large, or broken up into tiny sand-like fragments. The UV in sunlight breaks down the plasticisers in plastic, leaving it brittle, and easily broken up by the waves.
While it’s not quite a solid island that you could walk across, there is a huge amount of plastic out in the Pacific Garbage Patch. And there is evidence that animals ingest the plastic fragments, though it’s not yet clear how damaging it might be for wildlife. One thing is clear though – we should all be more careful of how we dispose of plastic waste.