Trash Vortex: sea-based landfilling?

The world’s largest garbage dump is located thousands of miles from land.  Also known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Pacific Trash Vortex is an area of marine debris floating in the Pacific Ocean.  This collection of trash is characterized as a plastic-soup due the high concentrations of suspended disposable plastics that have been trapped by the spiraling currents of the North Pacific Gyre.


The rotational pattern described by the North Pacific Gyre draws in waste material from the extremities of the North Pacific Ocean, including the coastal waters off North America and Japan. As material circulates in the current, the centripetal tendency gradually moves floating debris toward the center, trapping it in the circumscribed oceanic region. This action has produced unusually high levels of marine debris in the area.

08-12-03: Trash Vortex / The Independent

Charles Moore, an American oceanographer, discovered the trash vortex in 1997.  While taking a short cut home from a yacht race, Moore cut across the North Pacific Gyre, usually avoid by sea-vessels, and spent the following week swimming through the vortex’s trash-filled territory.

Like other areas of concentrated marine debris in the world's oceans, the Pacific Trash Vortex has formed gradually over the last decades as a result of higher levels of marine pollution and the action of prevailing oceanic currents.

The size of the affected region is unknown, but estimates range from 700,000 km2 to more than 15 million km2, (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean). It is estimated that 80% of the material trapped in the vortex comes from land-based sources and the remaining 20% are sea-based sources such as ships and oil rigs.  Moore estimates that oceanic currents carry debris from the east coast of Asia to the center of the gyre in a year or less. Debris from the west coast of North America arrives at the gyre’s centre after approximately five years.

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