It’s a well-known fact that much of out plastic waste gets deposited in the ocean. However, a team recently set out to find where EXACTLY all that garbage ended up. They followed the ocean currents, taking samples as the trolled along the coasts and along the major currents. In their results (seen below) they tracked where the build-ups of waste are.
Remember the last plastic straw you used? It may have simply ended up in a landfill. But there’s also a good chance that straw just began a very long journey. Maybe it tumbled out of a garbage truck, for example. The wind might have blown it to a site where rainwater washed it into some stream. Eventually, it might have floated down to the ocean. If that straw hitched a ride on an ocean current, it might have kept traveling. A new study finds that ocean currents send a surprising amount of plastic trash from the North Atlantic up into the Arctic.
And because plastic doesn’t readily break down in the environment, it can stick around long enough to cause trouble. Animals can get tangled in plastic netting or bags. Some critters may mistake it for food and eat it. From tiny plankton to the fish on our plates to sea birds and even whales, plastic increasingly has been finding its way onto the dinner menu of creatures around the world.
Andrés Cózar wanted to know just how far plastic waste travels — and where most of it ends up. Cózar is an oceanographer at the University of Cádiz in Puerto Real, Spain. He worked with scientists from eight different countries for his new study. The team spent five months traveling by boat around the Arctic Ocean.
They motored between Greenland and Norway, along the northern coast of Russia, past Alaska and Canada, and down into the Labrador Sea between North America and Greenland. Along the way, they collected samples of debris from 42 places in the ocean.
To do this, they dragged a net behind their boat. The researchers placed the net just below the water’s surface and dragged it for 20 minutes at a time as they traveled. Openings in the netting were tiny — between one-third and one-half of a millimeter (0.01 to 0.02 inch). Water could flow through them, but small pieces of plastic — called…