How Much Plastic is in the Ocean?


[MUSIC] In January 1992, a cargo ship sailing from
Hong Kong to Washington hit a storm, and twelve containers tumbled overboard, releasing a
fleet of blue turtles, green frogs, red beavers, and yellow ducks. 28,800 animals, destined for bathtubs, now
a lonely plastic navy, drifting in the Pacific Ocean. Then they started to float ashore. Along the Alaska coast, Washington State,
some even traveled as far as the British Isles. But a few ended up here, in a swirling spiral
of floating junk: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There’s five, or maybe six spots on Earth
where rotating currents gather masses of plastic debris. But go there and you won’t see mountains
of yellow ducks, red beavers, and novelty sunglasses. Not alarming as Garbage Island, but a lot
more dangerous. The high-density plastics we use to make consumables
(think water bottles, straws, and Frappuccino cups) are broken down by sun, waves, and curious
critters until what’s left is less like garbage rafts and more like tiny bits of confetti,
floating in soup. That soup is is bad news for what lives there,
which is ironic, since plastic was invented to save animals. During the 19th century, the demand for ivory
billiard balls decimated elephant populations, forcing chemists to look for a synthetic alternative. They found it 1907. Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic. Of course the real boom didn’t come until
the mid 20th century. “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.” “Yes sir?” “Are you listening?” “Yes I am.” “Plastics.” Modern plastics are so strong that a 60 gram
jug can carry 4 kg of milk. But despite being so durable, plastic is also
cheap. So cheap that much of it’s designed to be
used just once. And even when it ends up in the trash can,
or better yet, the recycling bin, every year more than 8 million tons of plastic waste
leak into the ocean. That’s about 15 plastic shopping bags worth
for every meter of coastline on Earth. Because that plastic is broken down into nearly
invisible bits, it makes it hard to figure out just how large those polluted patches
are. Is it one Texas? Two, or four Texases? Or is it Texii? Whatever. That puny plastic potpourri also means most
of those ocean-skimming cleanup ideas you hear about won’t work, and truth is, while
we might hear a lot about these flotillas of flotsam, we find plastic in everywhere
we find ocean, and at every depth, even the deepest. Birds and younger sea animals that can’t
dive deep to find their dinner end up feeding near the surface where they encounter more
plastic. Larger debris can certainly tangle these animals
up, but many end up eating plastic too – sometimes by accident. To a sea turtle? Floating trash looks a lot like dinner. And smaller debris, when ingested by young
fish, can interfere with growth and development. On the small scale, the tiny organisms who
recycle whale poop, driftwood, and old ships can’t break down microscopic plastic debris,
and those tiny bits can absorb toxins which are concentrated as they move up the food
chain, even to our plates. CU/WIDE: But that plate? Is somewhere we can make a difference. When it comes to plastic pollution, just remember
the 6 R’s Reduce! Choose to buy fewer things that are packaged
in non-recyclable plastic. Did you know that stores like Amazon often
let you choose “hassle-free” packaging? Reuse! Think reusable. Certainly works for Hollywood. Recycle! Most cities have recycling programs these
days, but a lot of recyclable stuff still gets thrown away. Stuff like clothes and shoes, full of plastic
fibers. So why not donate them? Rethink! If you build or make things, ask if there’s
another way to do it without using disposable plastics. I hear the next iPhone might be made of wood! And if you own something plastic and it breaks,
try to repair it rather than throw it away. Finally, Refuse! Just say no to disposable plastics. Turn your plastic fork into metal. Did you know that Americans use 500 million
drinking straws every single day? Did you know that you can drink with your
mouth, and not use a straw? Try it! It doesn’t suck. We’ll never get rid of plastic, and that’s
ok. It’s still a pretty great invention, and
there’s a lot of places where it makes sense. But there’s a lot of places where it doesn’t. Just ask the turtles, and the birds. Stay curious. I just want to say one word to you. One word. Subscribe! And if you want to learn more about plastic
pollution, ocean currents, garbage patches, plus what you can do to reduce plastic waste
in your own life, we put a bunch of links down in the description.

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