Giant Trash Island

I am more than willing to believe that too many people treat the oceans as a big trash can.  In particular, I have written before about how Southern Californians in general seem to love to leave their trash lying aboutHowever, I am going to call bullshit on this article:

In reality, the rogue bag
would float into a sewer, follow the storm drain to the ocean, then
make its way to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that's twice the size of Texas, according to marine biologists.

The enormous stew of trash - which consists of 80 percent plastics
and weighs some 3.5 million tons, say oceanographers - floats where few
people ever travel, in a no-man's land between San Francisco and

Marcus Eriksen, director of research and education at the Algalita
Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, said his group has been
monitoring the Garbage Patch for 10 years.

"With the winds blowing in and the currents in the gyre going
circular, it's the perfect environment for trapping," Eriksen said.
"There's nothing we can do about it now, except do no more harm."

The patch has been growing, along with ocean debris
worldwide, tenfold every decade since the 1950s, said Chris Parry,
public education program manager with the California Coastal Commission
in San Francisco.

Uh, right.  Funny that it does not seem to show up in satellite photos.  Again, I am not minimizing the fact that a lot of jerks litter and the trash ends up in the ocean, but the floating island of trash twice as big as Texas and growing by 10x every decade?   I'll file that right next to the story of the grandmother who tried to dry her cat in the microwave.


  1. Matthew Brown:

    Wikipedia has an article on it:

    Says that the 'Size of Texas' thing is an exaggeration. Obviously anyone can write anything on WP, but the references could be useful to dig through.

    Enviromentalists have an unfortunate tendency to gross exaggeration - not realizing that it makes their message less believable, not more.

  2. OneEyedMan:

    I saw the google video they had and it seemed that the trash just gathered in an area the size of texas, not that it was a huge island that you could walk on.

  3. Jared:

    If we accept the numbers in that Wikipedia article, then the average piece of trash weights about one milligram. I don't know the average density of the flotsam, but I'm going to say it can't be much heavier than paper if it's going to stay afloat. A typical sheet of paper is about 5 grams, so we're looking at garbage with an average somewhere in the neighborhood of half the size of the nail on your pinkie. Let's round up to 1 cm^2 per piece of trash.

    If there are 3.34*10^6 of these per km^2 (again from that Wikipedia article), then about .0334% of the area would be covered in trash. Now I'm going to ignore the Sorites paradox and say there is no way that this constitutes a heap for any meaningful definition of "heap." Anything that does not cover the area of interest, and further does not even cover a tenth of a percent of the area of interest, can in no way be described as a heap. So a lot of trash maybe, but a bullshit article nonetheless.

    Also, the size of the patch can not grow indefinitely because it is bounded by the area of the vortex. Perhaps the volume of trash in that area is growing exponentially, but if the surface area was increasing ten fold ever decade, it would cover the entire Pacific ocean in about 22 years. And if it's been growing tenfold since the fifties, it would have been about 13.5km^2 at that point, which would have been effectively unnoticeable.

  4. franco:

    I think I saw this on CNN and it sounded like a whole continent floating out there. I was thinking "holy s***, this thing sounds huge" and wondering why I had never heard of it. I was waiting to see video of some guy traipsing around on this giant trash heap but the footage never materialized. That's when I realized it was all hyped up. I would have appreciated a fact based discussion of this thing but there was no such thing.

  5. Damon Gentry:

    I once saw a Penn and Teller episode of BullSh*t! where they stated that if all the landfills in the U.S. were condensed into a single landfill, it would fill 37 sqare miles, 200 feet deep and would last the U.S. for 100 years. I don't have the data to verity the claim, but their point was to highlight the exaggerated claims that we are running out of landfill space.

    Another interesting tidbit regarding population explosion: Did you know that if you placed the entire population of the earth into the state of Texas, the population density would be less than that of New York City? I verified those facts with Wikipedia and with U.S. Geological data.

  6. Brian:

    "There's nothing we can do about it now, except do no more harm."

    A large-ish atom bomb, detonated in the middle, should disperse the trash nicely.

    Since the thing is a vortex any radiation will eddy around and not escape - it's perfect!

  7. Jamie:

    It turns out, this trash is actually a field of debris. Not a floating island you or I could walk on. Seriously, we can't clean it up because it's too expensive. But we can stop using so much plastic.

    See my blog at for more details.

    (PS I called Bull**** on this article too, that's why I looked more into it).

  8. df:

    First off, the trash collected is not the size of Texas, the area it collects in is. Secondly, while I'm sure theres a fair amount of trash coming from north America, you can blame Los Angeles if you like, it's also been called, “the Asian Trash Trail and The Eastern Garbage Patch." Finally, trash collects in the Oceans all of the world, in this particular vortex, there is very little land for the trash to wash up on so it just collects and spins and doesn't GO anywhere.

    I'm a HUGE opponent of any kind of litter, when I see people throw trash down I like to yell at them, "excuse me, you dropped something!" If they pretend like they can't hear me, I say it louder and louder until everybody else around can hear me, this always does the trick. I've also been known to get out of my car at stoplights to throw cigarette butts back into peoples cars.

    So, I don't want anybody to think I'm justifying the trash floating in the oceans, I'm not, I just want people to have better information so they don't look quite so silly.

  9. bob:

    i want to see how big it gets

  10. rICHARD:

    This is a problem that i think should be more urgent than some blog subject

  11. Atlantic:

    Does anyone have the approximate coordinates of the Pacific Trash Vortex? I wonder if there could be a view of it in Google Earth.

  12. Bradley James:

    It would seem that the majority of the respondents to this catastrophy in the making, are woefully misinformed in the concideration of the End Times scenario depicted in the Bible. Specifically, Revelation, chapter 8, verses 8 and 9, where it say's, "And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was csst into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died. And the third part of the ships were destroyed."
    It has been reported that over 100 million gallons of oil a year is deposited into the Pacific annually. Surprisingly, about 67% of that is of a natural occurance. Oil bearing rock layers in the ocean! The other 33% is from tankers running aground and platform accidents.
    Mixing the plastic island with the oil and a little spark from above and you've got the barbeque of all time. For further info, check out "Recipes For Lean Times".

  13. grg:

    It's not really an island, but it is a really large area that's pretty dense with floating plastic. also, a lot of the plastic is in really tiny pieces.

    Here's the article you need to read.

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