Ever heard of a gyre? If not, we’ve got your back. A gyre is a naturally occurring vortex of wind and ocean currents that creates a whirlpool effect, trapping everything within those currents in an endless cycle of literal motion in the ocean. Currently, there are five major ocean gyres, including one (the North Pacific Gyre, in between California and Hawaii) that’s roughly twice the size of Texas.
Okay, so that’s a fun fact to have on deck for trivia night, but here’s why you should care: these gyres all contain plastic and persistent organic pollutants, meaning they’re basically giant whirlpools of trash in our ocean. That fun fact about the one gyre being twice the size of Texas? Yeah, not so cool anymore when you consider that equals out to about 11 million tons of floating plastic, covering an area of nearly 5 million square miles in the Pacific Ocean. Ma-gyre-ly gross (sorry not sorry, we were really proud of that pun).
The Plastic Problem
The majority of the trash in these gyres is plastic, and 80% of the plastic pollution comes from land; it’s either directly thrown into the ocean, or washed by heavy rains and rivers in to the ocean.
Once plastic gets in the ocean, it’s pretty much there for the long haul. Plastic is petroleum-based, and it’s insoluble in water — meaning it just doesn’t break down easily. Plus, other hazardous chemicals fall into the ocean (like gasoline, motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, and more), leech on to plastic waste, and are ingested by marine wildlife that we then turn around and eat for dinner. Larger pieces of plastic are eaten by sea turtles and birds, which blocks up their digestive systems and causes them to starve to death. Sounds appetizing, right?
Why Reusable is the Answer
Americans use three million plastic water bottles an hour. Even worse, less than 30% of these single-use plastic bottles are recycled. They’re tossed into trash, where they end up in landfills and eventually, the ocean. In fact, 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year.
Even if you do diligently recycle your plastic bottles, that doesn’t guarantee it gets recycled. In 2014, 22% of PET plastic that was recycled was exported out of the United States, because recycling companies can’t keep up with how much plastic we’re using and recycling. Plus, it’s not as cost-effective for companies to buy recycled plastic, when brand-new plastic is much cheaper.
The only surefire way to avoid adding plastic to the giant trash whirlpools in the ocean? Go reusable (a reusable glass water bottle is an especially environmentally friendly choice- learn more about why here). Plastic water bottles, coffee cups, and straws are three of the top five sources of single use plastic. With a reusable glass water bottle and a reusable travel mug in your home or office (or both!), you’re doing your part to fight the gyre and prevent that two-times-Texas sized gyre from growing any more.