There are over five trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans. The floating island of rubbish that’s supposedly found at the centre of the Pacific Ocean, dubbed the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, has captured the public’s imagination, but even this doesn’t do justice to the problem. In reality, if you stood on a boat at that site, you would see no enormous plastic island, but rather endless tiny fragments floating on the surface of the ocean. According to one estimate, this plastic soup covers an area twice the size of the continental United States.
As plastic moves through our seas, it breaks down into smaller pieces – the kind of pieces that can easily be swallowed by marine life. And the problems continue beneath the surface. Scientists are increasingly finding deposits of plastic at the bottom of the oceans, even as far down as the 10km-deep Mariana Trench in the Pacific.
The facts are horrifying, but many of the impacts that plastic will have on ocean ecosystems, marine creatures and, by association, us, remain to be seen. Scientists and entrepreneurs are currently working on ways to halt the flow of plastic into our oceans, and get rid of the stuff that’s already there, before the problem gets even worse.
Perhaps the most natural response to the plastic problem is to try to clean up what’s already there. “Of course, clean-up is really impo