The Problem with Plastic – The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Biodegradability

Plastic is everywhere in our world. We use it for utensils, bottles, and even in the screens of our electronics. Plastic is an incredibly useful material, but it has a major problem. It’s not biodegradable.  

Involving Students: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – STEM JOBS
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Something is biodegradable if it can be decomposed, or broken down by living things like bacteria until it can be absorbed by the environment. But when bacteria see plastic, they don’t know what to do. This is because plastic is made artificially from something called propylene. A unit of propylene is like a building block and many of them are joined together to make long chains. The chemical bonds that link these blocks together are not seen in nature so living organisms do not have a way to break them down.

As a result, plastic that is thrown away has built up and polluted oceans and other bodies of water. One famous example of this is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch | Global Trash Solutions
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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a giant collection of ocean trash that is mostly made up of plastic. If you can imagine, it’s more than twice the size of the state of Texas and it goes all the way from the West Coast of North America to Japan!

Ocean currents draw in plastic and other trash into the patch where it then becomes trapped. Once trapped, the plastic can break down into smaller pieces called micro-plastics but it can’t biodegrade.

300-Mile Swim Through The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Will Collect Data On  Plastic Pollution
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You might be asking where does all this plastic come from? Well..

  • A large portion of the patch is made up of fishing nets
  • Much of the debris also comes from boaters, oil rigs, and large cargo ships
  • Many consumer products such as plastic bags, bottles, and bottles caps can be found too
  • For a more detailed breakdown check out this website: https://theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/

As you will find out in upcoming posts on LINK’s new Ocean Conservation Section, this accumulation of plastic can be risky for marine animals and the health of oceans in general! Stay updated to find out what you can do to minimize plastic pollution and raise awareness on the issue from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and beyond.


Sources:

https://www.livescience.com/33085-petroleum-derived-plastic-non-biodegradable.html

https://www.columbiatribune.com/news/20190107/ask-scientist-why-is-it-so-hard-to-decomposeplastic#:~:text=The%20problem%20with%20decomposing%20plastic,bacteria%20cannot%20break%20them%20down.

https://www.plasticseurope.org/en/about-plastics/what-are-plastics

https://www.britannica.com/science/plastic-pollution

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