Why Is There A Big Patch Of Garbage In The Pacific Ocean?
This is but why a podcast for curious kids produced at for Mont public radio. I'm Jane Lindholm. I'm the host of this show. But you are the ones who guide us in what we covered by sending in your questions today. We're not only answering question that one of you sent us, but we're exploring an area where kids like you have been activists helping to change the world and clean up the mess. Literally that the adults who came before you have made. Here's a question, we're focusing on today Riley, and I'm for years old. I live in the face. Four years old. And my question is why they're big Patrick garbage in Kasich fit ocean. So leeann is asking why there's a big patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean. Have you ever heard about that? It's known as the great Pacific garbage patch. And it's a real thing. It's a spot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between California or Mexico and Hawaii if that's a part of the world, you can picture, and it's an area of the ocean. That's really big one point six million square kilometers almost six hundred eighteen thousand square miles. That's three times the size of France or twice the size of Texas. This part of the Pacific Ocean is known as the north Pacific Geijer, a Geijer is like a very slow moving whirlpool. It's where ocean currents circulate. There are five Gyor's in the world in the world's oceans. And so as these water current. Swirl around they collect all of this ocean trash into a concentrated location. There are three garbage patches and the most famous one is this great Pacific garbage patch that Leon's asking about now, it might be a little hard to picture what exactly we're talking about. So as we answer Leon's question, we thought we talked to someone who's actually bend to this garbage patch in the ocean. My name is Allie Moloney. I am the news and politics features editor at teen vogue, and my pronouns are she and her I was lucky enough to travel on a ship to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Last fall, I was invited by an organization called Greenpeace who does environmental work all over the world, and they're kind of known for their actions in defense of the environment. So they have the ships may invited me to go with them. And it's over a thousand miles from the shore. So we took off from Mexico, and then days and days and days later, we ended up at the Greek Pacific. Garbage patch right in the middle of the ocean. It was wild to be their alley wrote about her trip to the garbage patch in a feature. She did for teen vogue as part of a series called plastic planet. Alley says a lot of people think the garbage patch is going to look like a big island of trash just floating on the surface of the water. But that's not really what it is. When you get to the part of the ocean where it is you can tell that something is different based on the degree of plastic in the water. But it's not just a flat surface. It's not an island like you would think of so you're not having to break through the plastic with the ship. You're just looking down in you're noticing that yet is different here. There is more plastic here. So describe what it actually looks like once you get there, you're on this boat for days and days. And then you said, you notice that something is actually different when you're in this Giro when you're in this place, where all of this garbage is so you look out from the ship and you're standing on the deck, and you can see. See in the water a lot of ghost nets, and those are wear nets from the fishing industry and ships will kind of all come together into huge masses. So you've got tons of different colors of net. And you can see that some are kind of rope and summer just clearly, you know, cut from plastic, but there's buoy of all different shapes and sizes, and then we would actually use a crane mechanical crane that would pull up from the side of the ship down into the water and pull out those ghost nets. So we started doing that. When we got to the patch because we notice them, I they're the biggest thing because the fishing and seafood industry, actually is responsible for a lot of the trash a lot of the plastic specifically in the ocean. And a lot of the plastic in the patch. So we could notice these big masses that were clearly all net, and we pulled them up on the back of the ship. Using this crane we had to pull fish out. So. So we're pulling fish out in throwing the back in the water just trying to save what we can see and all the while little crabs are running out from these big masses. But also in the water itself, you can see, you know, broken pieces of plastic and we were tasked with keeping count because that was important for Greenpeace's research. So we could see everything from buckets to traffic cones to just odd shapes and sizes to kind of recognizable shapes and sizes. I remember seeing what looked like the front of an air conditioning unit. Just kind of float by in the water, but it's more concentrated there. So you can see lot more. And then when you're closer to the water, they would put us in smaller boats off the ship, and when you're actually out in the water itself, you notice that it's not just big floating pieces of plastic. We would send down divers and what they said was underneath the water surface. There's all of. These teeny tiny pieces fragments of plastics. So those bigger pieces I saw floating they break down farther and farther and farther, but they never fully go away and the bottom of the ocean. Especially in the great Pacific garbage. Patch is full of it. They could move their hands through the water, and they'd be moving their hands through very small pieces of plastic. And in some cases, sometimes people talk about things called micro-plastics, and they can be even smaller than what you can see with your eye. Right. So there's plastic all through the water in various sizes. Exactly. And that was what I was just describing that the divers could see so all of the plastics that we know and we touch in our day to day lives. If those aren't recycled properly and fully that means that they're either going to go into a landfill where they seep into the ground, and they ruined the soil or they're going to go into the ocean. And the water will break it down over time. If it doesn't end up on the shore. But if not it's just slowly chipping away and those little micro-plastics. That's what animals are you know, when they are going further actual pray these sea creatures that we know in love when they're going to take a big gulp of say a fish in that big gulp. They're getting tons of micro-plastics. So it's not just the big pieces that they're eating or that we see on the shores, it's these teeny tiny little specks. But that was what Greenpeace was out there doing lowering something into the water cold trawl, which we would run alongside the ship. We would pull it out, and then we would sort through all of the micro-plastics. So we're seeing all of these different colors blue. There's white. There's bright. Pink like Barbie car, and it really starts to mess with you after a while because that's a little pieces, and those aren't even the big ones that catch your eye. Where does all this plastic come from well around the world more than three hundred eighty million tons of plastic is produced each year half of all the plastic waste in the world comes from single use plastics stuff. That's just used for moments and then thrown away like a plastic grocery bag water or juice bottle or a straw. And if you think about it, most of the plastic stuff, we use just gets tossed in the trash some of it ends up in our landfills about nine percent of all the plastic. That's ever been made in the world has been recycled and some of it ends up in the ocean. And that's bad. It's nearly impossible to get all those tiny little pieces of plastic out of the ocean. Big and large plastic can cause lots of different problems. The problem with plastics is virtually that. There's just too much it ends up in the great Pacific garbage patch in the ocean in our streams and honor shores because we've created so much over the last, you know, between fifty to seventy years that VERA. Earth can't take it anymore and Moore's being produced every day. Another thing about plastic. Eight hundred species of animals have been documented to eaten micro-plastics including humans. Right. Yeah. Absolutely. And a big problem for humans of something called micro fibers, which come out of synthetic clothes. So when you wash your synthetic clothes, they're teeny tiny. You can't even see him smaller than a human cell fragments of plastic that go in the water the Environmental Protection Agency in the US that's tasked with taking care of Americans in their environmental needs, even the water. There has micro fibers in it. So plastic is everywhere and something that we don't really think about is how it's affecting us on a real human level. We know that there are some chemicals that are bad for us that are implicit. But the way that plastics are made are toxic to the environment and the places where these projects are set up to make plans. Stick or were the trash itself is dumped is usually marginalized communities. So you have the poorest people dealing with the most plastic and then toxic air on top of that. So across the board. It's more than just, you know, plastic is going to Leach into the soil. It's it's a human problem. It's a seep. It's a CNN problem. But it's really a global issue because there's not one place on earth, but isn't affected by all of the plastic. That's been created in the short time that it's on earth in just a minute. We're going to talk about what you can do to help this situation. But first, here's a message for the grownups listening. But why has support from Kiwi co Kiwi? Co creates hands on projects for kids that make learning about science technology, engineering and math fun kids. Can discover probability explore the science of flight even dive into hydraulics QA co is offering. But y listeners the chance to try them for free. To redeem this offer and learn more visit Kiwi co dot com slash. But why? This is but why a podcast for curious kids. I'm Jane Lindholm and today, we're answering four year old Leon's question about why there's a big concentration of trash out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It's called the great Pacific garbage patch, and it's one of three areas in the world's oceans where ocean currents swirl a lot of plastic trash into one big area. It's not like an island of trash sitting on top of the water, but there's a lot of wasted plastic. And when divers go down into it. They see tons of little pieces of micro plastic floating suspended in the water see creatures swallowed this water and get that plastic into their bodies and human sometimes eat fish that already have that plastic in their bodies. Or we drink water that has plastic or chemical fibers in it that are too small for us to see we don't know yet all of the effects of this plastic in our environment or in our bodies. But we know that it's. Bad. We're talking with Alli Maloney, a writer for a magazine called teen vogue. She got to go. See the garbage patch herself to write about it for a series called plastic planet. And if you're feeling pretty bad about all this plastic. You're not alone alley says, she got really emotional when she was out on that ship looking out over an ocean full of trash. It was really emotional because over the course of my life. I'm twenty years old. So over the course of my life. I have no nothing. But plastic I'm sitting there sorting through micro-plastics thinking about over the course of my life. Just how irresponsible I personally had been. But the weight of the world kinda gets on your shoulders and that sort of situation so it was actually pretty hard to be on the ship. I was lucky that I was surrounded by really enthusiastic activists. And organizers who when we would feel like crying, we could cry and then we could, you know, go back to our tasks at hand, you could go back to the research because what we were doing there will influence what we know about plastics in the future, especially because it's so hard to get to the great Pacific garbage patch besides fishing ships, and besides merchant activity there few people going out there. So the work that we were. Able to do I kept having to keep that in my mind. Like, this is further greater good. And this is so people younger than me in the future there quipped with more information about just how just how grave the situation is when it comes to plastics, but you did cry. I cry. Oh, did I cry totally? I mean, I am an outdoorsy person. I love being outside when I was growing up me and my sisters. You couldn't bring us inside. We're up in trees out in the woods. And so to be out in the middle of the ocean. And you're having this really emotional connection. We didn't see any other ships any other anything besides seabirds Fernan tire three weeks. So the only other thing that you're seeing is plastic and you go from being so moved by the sunset to seeing you know, VHS cassette tape case floating in the water. And it really just makes you think it really makes you wanna go home until your tire family like we've got to do something. Okay. So what can? We all do. Now. Some of what has to be done is really large scale governments and big companies have to change the things they make and the way they operate. What gives me a lot of hope is firstly things are already being done. We have these organizations around the world like Greenpeace, but they're joined by you know, cohurt of thousands of others who are really focused on this issue. Now some brands that are global brands like KEA or phasing out single use plastics by twenty twenty I q we'll have there's they say some grocery stores major chains are banning plastic bags, but Greenpeace's pushing for audits they're asking grocery stores to look around their shelves full brand inventory audit. See just how much plastic they they sell people are holding these corporations accountable, and that's important. We've also seen things like plastic straw bands and plastic bag bans in cities and states all around the country, and those are the results of tiny MU. Movements like at really big. And a lot of that is young people starts at home by talking to your parents like mom and dad. Do you recycle? Do we have to have water bottles in the house instead of a juice box every day? Mom, can I have the same Cup with a lid that I put on and I bring to school with me. So you can do that kind of in your own home. But then when you go to school look in the cafeteria and see if your cafeteria is using single use plastic utensils and start there too. I mean letters from kid or any type of any type of activism that's coming from young person takes older people. It takes them off guard in this way, where I think that they become really receptive. So there's all really great examples around the country of how kids have just simply posed a question to someone in power. Whether it's a grocery store manager or their principal or their lunch lady or their mom and started kind of a little mini revolution. Where other kids get on board? There are even organizations that are dedicated to helping young people be activists on this subject. My name is on a balance and education director at alka Lita are small non profit that focuses on preventing plastic pollution on. Aku says there are ways to start small with your own personal use to combat the problem of so much plastic definitely start with yourself. I think about what you use in your daily life. That's plastic. And then pick one thing that you want to start replacing. So it could be maybe you pack, a water bottle in your lunch every day. Well, maybe think about using a reusable bottle or reusing a plastic one. Even if you have no other option, and then once you've got that new habit down start focusing on the next thing. So you could look at packing your whole lunch, plastic free or plastic smart as we like to say, so just re- you can even reuse plastic items like plastic. Upper wear is still better than ziplock bag for your sandwich because you can use it so many times, and then you can also even go further. So you can if you're going grocery shopping with your parents, you can go you can ask them to look for items that have, you know, things that are packaging glass instead of plastic or in a peeper bag or go to the bulk aisle and get your favorite snacks in bulk bringing your own produce bags to put all your snacks in. So there's so many different ways that you can start to be aware of the plastic that you're using in your daily life, and then taking one step at a time on a ca- has an example of how she does this in her own life. I have a kit of reusable 's that I carry around with me wherever I go. So I have a fork and a spoon that I bring with me. So if ever need to eat anything, whether I'm at work or. I'm at an event or go out to eat. I can use my reusable 's and I have a Tupperware as well that I carry around with me and leaving my car to that I can use if I'm ever going out to eat. I can put my leftovers in it. I also make sure to always have a bag and water bottle or or tea mug. And I also at home, I have a little clothesline that hang up in my kitchen that I wash out my plastic bags as I still buy bread and plastic bag sometimes so I'll reuse all of those things that I'm getting at the grocery sort as packaging, and I'll try to reuse them as trash bags or as produce bags until I can't use them anymore. But what about the bigger steps on a ca- says kids are making a big difference on this issue by making the adults in their lives. Think about how much of an impact plastic has on. The world one school here in Los Angeles. They took all of their styrofoam trays from one day at one JR. And they stocked them up really high and put him in the front yard of the school next to a tree and all the parents and teachers in administration saw and realize just how much EPS or styrofoam they were using every single day. And they decided to have the Los Angeles school district eventually got so big at the Los Angeles school district decided to team up with other large five largest school districts in the United States and by teaming up together, they were able to reduce the cost of alternate of Compostable trae, and we're able to make the switch, and there are other examples where students have asked their school to make reusable materials more available or to cut down on single use plastic waste or to stop making plastic straws available unless Kim. Need them for mobility issues? But ultimately, it's going to take more than these small movements to make a big enough difference. We definitely need companies around the world to. Rethink their packaging to work together with at the design phase to work together with recycler is and making their their packaging recyclable from the get-go, and we also definitely need policy to hope that along and to make these things normal right because right now, it's a really big deal. If a company says, hey, we're going to repackage our product. So that it's more recyclable or less wasteful or uses less, plastic and. Those are earlier's right now. And we kind of need that to happen across the board in which is where policy will come into play and policies are starting to change big countries. Small states even cities are making changes around single use plastic here in Vermont where but why is based there are a couple of different laws that lawmakers are debating right now the deal with the problem of plastic pollution, one of them would make it so stores can't offer single use plastic bags and customers wouldn't be able to for example, get a bag at a grocery store that they'd just throw away when they get home any bag. You got at a grocery store would have to be one that you reuse, and you wouldn't be able to get styrofoam containers. If you got takeout food plastic bags are already banned in many cities around the United States, California has a ban on plastic bags and Hawaii more or less does as well. The most populous counties have all outlawed non-biodegradable bags four states require. Labeling and recycling programs for plastic bags ten states, though, have gone the other way entirely passing laws that say plastic bags can't be outlawed in Australia when two supermarket chains stopped giving away plastic bags they prevented one point five billion bags from going out in just three months. Most of the states and territories in Australia have taken steps to pass legislation to restrict plastic bag. Use straws are another issue. One study estimated that five hundred million straws are used every day cities like Seattle Washington. DC and Vancouver have already banned straws in sit down restaurants in California. You're only supposed to get a straw. If you specifically ask for one. So people are starting to realize what a big problem. Plastic can be and take action. What about you? Do you do something to prevent more plastic from going into the ocean or the landfill? Maybe you've told the adults in your life. You don't want anymore. Plastic toys, or maybe you do something at your school. Like what we heard from on Akot an alley. Tell us about it and tell us what else you'd like to learn about that's it for this episode. But if you have a question, you can have an adult in your life recorded for you. Tell us your first name where you live, and how old you are. And what you want to know you can do it on a smartphone using the memo function or another free app that records voices, then have your adult send the file took questions at but why kids dot org? Thanks in this episode to Allie Maloney at teen vogue and Ana balance at alga Lita, but why is produced by melody debt in me, Jane Lindholm at Vermont public radio. Our theme music is by Luke Reynolds. We'll be back in two weeks with an all new episode until then stay curious.