This doesn't mean that having this debris is a good thing but it's important to get some perspective as the rhetoric here is very misleading.
Personally I'm more concerned about these plastics getting into my food than I am about whether they'll support my chair. We're going to have serious ecological issues long before these garbage patches become visible - or floatable.
I agree with the OP's point that the headline is alarmist. Though I find the idea of even few dozen coke bottles per km^2 at the ends of the earth pretty depressing.
Half a kilo of plastic per square kilometer is a lot for water that shouldn't have any plastic in the first place. I guess it is all about perspective.
It's a good thing in a way; it allows us to spend a lot less clearing it up.
The plastic also tends to gather up other pollutants - PCBs for example - and for smaller creatures that's a problem. And these concentrate through the food chain.
4 particles per cubic meter in the Great Pacific garbage patch.
Again, this is not a good thing and has important negative ecological effects. This needs to be studied and mitigated. But we're still not walking on top of floating islands of garbage.
Most humans would have a hard time to know if they're in the garbage patches or not.
The term garbage patch is probably misleading. Soup is better, but still makes people think you'd be able to see it.
One sample drawn near the border of Lake Erie's central and eastern basins
yielded 600,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer
They are doing exactly that.
What percent of readers of this site drank water from a plastic bottle in the past, say, 24 hours? ... in places with potable tap water making bottles unnecessary... Or nalgene containers... Or soda, juice, etc in bottles...
I recycle what I can, but I've taken to treating recyclables as landfill garbage, since most of it ends up there, which means I avoid consuming it as much as practicable. The more I do it, the easier I find consuming less without any loss of happiness.
Actually, less stuff has increased my happiness.
Someone will inevitably write that consuming less won't make much difference. Well, why not do it to improve your life anyway?
So, yes getting past the plastic problem is super important. But our solution has to match the scope of the problem. Personal responsibility, reducing consumption is good, but that shouldnt come in the way of thinking in terms of systems. Typically, the conversation moves away from a focus on the issue to an evaluation of ourselves and others.
Some countries have packaging free supermarkets. There are biodegradable alternatives to plastics which keep being proposed but havent become popular for whatever reason. Discussing that would be a good place to start. Funding research or entreprenurship would be a great approach.
I agree with avoiding packaging and more. Since I started avoiding food with packaging, I've reduced my landfill garbage to having to empty my household garbage two or three times per year.
With an increase in deliciousness, convenience, and saving money.
Here are a couple posts on it, for those interested:
These small practices contributed to a bigger practice of not flying for a year (and counting): https://www.inc.com/joshua-spodek/365-days-without-flying.ht... so discovering the joys and rewards of consuming less have compounded, at least in my experience.
I'm also teaching a course in systems thinking, always seeking ways to apply more.
It makes you think more broadly about how your lifestyle is contributing to waste (so, you start thinking not just about bottles but about your car). So now you're considering more things.
It also can affect people around you who see you making these decisions. You buy an electric car because "hey I rarely drive more than 50 miles", and more people will think about it. You get tap water, etc.
The problem with systemic thinking is that the process usually starts with "how do we continue the same lifestyle we have". Real gains come from changing how we live our life, and that requires convincing people.
For example, talking about how higher density housing allowing for less car usage first requires convincing people around us to accept higher density housing.
Packaging-free supermarkets do not work in a universe where people don't care about their personal contribution to pollution, especially given that the packaging-free places are more expensive.
I just refill it. It's food grade steel so I've never actually had to clean it.
I honestly can't imagine how much plastic I've avoided purchasing because of this simple investment, not to mention how much money I've saved.
Also, if you decide to wash with hot water or a dishwasher, BPA is an issue as well. A Nalgene bottle in lieu of PET bottles is probably safer and more durable in the long run.
There are definitely no possible downsides or unintended consequences to this idea.
For example, fishing line. What would happen if we banned this? I think there might be dire consequences for cultures that depend on seafood for sustenance.
Very sad - hopefully one day the world will come to see plastic as the scourge that it is.
I stayed on Kerguelen island for about a year (in the Indian Ocean, not the Pacific) and the North coast is just completely full of plastic trash brought there by the sea. Plastic bottles, tanks, buoys, ropes. The West coast is a bit too remote to survey, but it's probably even worse.
So, people living on islands create trash obviously, but the uninhabited ones might not be better.
I'm guessing he did not visit Japan then.
Seriously. That (website) combined with personal responsiblilty (reusing water bottles as shared in other comments) would make a huge difference. Personal responsibility: When was the last time you (the reader) tossed a cigarette butt on the ground? ... threw something in the trash instead of taking it to a recycling bin? ...
This hits the front page the same day HN has an article about Russia being better at STEM outreach to young girls than the USA. If you're in the USA and want to promote STEM, go to your local school and fund construction of one of the Precious Plastic machines. It's probably the same cost as a student would have to fund raise for drama club or football team. Get Precious Plastic into schools, integrated with the shop/tech ed classes, involved with Home Ec (or whatever it's called now), and encourage [girls and boys] to be more interested, more involved, more creative.
We can solve more of these problems simultaneously with good solutions. Let's do it people!
When spread as a film on and mixed in the surface of the ocean, it's a big deal, but it's less than a millionth of the 30 billion tons of CO2 that we're annually pumping into the atmosphere.
That said, I'm not just talking about the plastic accumulated at this location but our waste plastic globally. That carbon might be considered "sequestered" in plastic for the time being, but that might not continue to be the case.
It should be noted that this little-known oceanic phenomenon has a massive impact on the ecology of the Earth and personally I think studying it is one of the best starting points in determining how to measure our impact on the Earth's ecology (eg: sources and destinations of pollution).
Don't get me wrong, horrible issue and glad to see some articles pass by on HN that try to address this issue. But calling it a 'discovery' is a bit odd imho.
I don't think anyone's claiming the plastic is new.
And that's why i think its not a discovery, we knew it was there before.
Do people really think 7 billion humans will not have any impact on the planet? They will. Things will change. As long as it serves our purpose, we must utilize this planet to the maximum.
In the end, a transaction should leave everything balanced i.e. the buyer gets his soda and the seller gets his money AND (this is the part we are currently missing) every party not involved in the transaction is unaffected, so the environment can't be worse because A bought soda from B.
What we try to do now is regulate capitalism by e.g environmental reuglations and so on - but far from enough, and it doesn't stand a chance of becoming enough as long as it's local efforts in different countries. Large international organizations (OECD, WTO, EU, UN, ...) really need to get this into agreements.
It IS my business if free flimsy plastic bags are allowed in supermarkets in China, whether antibiotics are given to healthy animals in the US or Denmark, or what fertilizer Polish farmers use. The question is what I can do about it? In some cases I can just not sponsor it (e.g. not buy Danish pork) but what do I do about plastic bags in China?
1) Profit incentives that don't align with long-term environmental improvement, in part due to ineffective regulations.
2) Incomplete corporate accounting that doesn't factor in environmental costs such as pollution.
3) Apathy and/or lack of awareness of environmental consequences by consumers - a state which is encouraged by advertising and corporate mechanisms such as planned obsolescence.
Capitalism* may be a problem, but a brief bit of reading will tell you that Communism is a far far worse problem when it comes to pollution.
* whatever you mean by that.
Capitalism is 1000% is the problem. No ifs, ends or buts. Specially, unrestricted, unlimited, mindless consumption of resources (which is at the core of capitalism) is the problem.
> brief bit of reading will tell you that Communism is a far far worse problem when it comes to pollution
Please do tell me what "reading" you're referring to. And no, China is not communist. China is capitalist. In fact, there are no countries that communist any more (maybe with the exception of NK).
Venezualan Oil Tankers banned from many harbours.
Less Recent (Soviet Era)
You might not like fee.org so here's a Wikipedia quote.
"Kraków, Poland was covered by smog 135 days per year,
while Wrocław was covered by a fog of chrome gas"
There is a common cause of neglect of the environment in both so-called Communist and Capitalist countries.
I urge you to discover what that is for yourself.
Rapid industrialization? That would explain worse pollution in Soviet-bloc countries: they industrialized faster than capitalist western Europe/USA because they were playing catch-up.
1000% ? "unrestricted, unlimited, mindless" ?