Saturday, April 04, 2009

Pacific Ocean's Trash Island revisited

Some of you may remember a mention I made last year about a massive "trash vortex" about the size the size of the continental US floating out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

It's still there, of course, and got a recent write-up in the Wall Street Journal. The gyre of trash sounds like an environmental travesty; The Economist doesn't seem to think it's doing much good since the breakdown of plastics tend to seep into the food chain on onto our plates. But the Journal still manages to put a positive, yet interesting, spin on it:

Though no one thinks any possible benefits of plastic outweigh risks, Prof. Karl did find some positive aspects of the patch -- a high concentration of microorganisms clinging to the debris. "The microorganisms are good for the ocean, because it turns out they're making oxygen," Prof. Karl says. "If plastics were otherwise neutral to the environment, then they'd be helping by harvesting more solar energy." Dr. Bamford says it is possible that a cleanup, even if it were feasible, would do more harm than good, by removing these organisms.

The Journal also mentions the disagreement over the exact size of this marine plastic pile. Could be as big as North America, could be as small as Quebec. I wonder how much of of the estimated 100 million tons of plastic out there is made up of my discarded goods...

(This originally appeared on this date at the old address, which is no longer accessible)