environment waste websites

5 gyres – the plastic waste in our seas

Remember our post about the trash continent spiralling in the Pacific? Apparently it’s one of five gyres where plastic and other rubbish collects, swirled together by ocean currents. It’s also a relatively unresearched problem. The heart of it is plastic waste, from the vast quantities of packaging and trinkets that we use and throw away every day, from disposable coffee stirrers to carrier bags, bottle tops, lighters, cable ties and a thousand other things. Most of this waste is landfilled or incinerated, with around 5% worldwide recycled. Some of it just gets released into the wild and ends up as flotsam.

The trouble with plastic is that it isn’t biodegradable. It kicks around in the environment for decades, maybe longer – it hasn’t been around for long enough for us to work out how long it takes to break down. In the sea, the sunlight breaks it down into small pieces that float just below the surface. Over the years, it accumulates into drifting, liquid masses. The plastic shards are eaten by fish, seabirds and turtles. We don’t yet know what effect, if any, this plastic contamination will have on human health, through the seafood that we eat.

The 5 gyres project has been set up to find out more about plastic waste in the sea – how it gets there, what it does, and what we can do about it. They have a great website, full of useful and well presented information. They are currently making their way around all five gyres, some of which have not been surveyed before. You can follow their progress on the blog.

Of course, the only real solution is cutting down our own use of plastic. There has been plenty of attention given to plastic bags, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. To look at reducing your own plastic use, The Book of Rubbish Ideas is a useful place to start.


  1. I really like the graphic. I wanted to mention that you are right on when you said that plastic is a problem. Plastic is accumulating in our oceans, streams, roadsides, and landfills. Most plastic that is currently manufactured isn’t biodegradable and will take hundreds or thousands of years to go away. Plastic can be made to be biodegradable and as consumers/environmentalists we must demand that manufacturers start producing plastic products and packaging that has less of a negative impact on our environment. Our company, ENSO Bottles, is made up of a bunch of environmentalists who want to do something about plastic bottle pollution. As you know bottles for soft drinks, water, teas, etc., are made from PET plastic. PET is identified by a number one on the bottom. PET is heavier than water so once the container no longer holds air it will sink to the bottom. We have designed a plastic bottle that biodegrades and is an example of how we can make our plastic products more environmentally friendly. We recognize that the ENSO bottle isn’t the final answer for solving plastic pollution but it is a step in the right direction.
    “Bottles for a Healthier earth”

  2. Jeremy,
    Thanks for spreading the word, and for your excellent account of the problem – well written, and right on in your conclusion. We’ve got to cut back on our consumption to make a dent in the problem. Where are you based?
    Best wishes,

  3. this is the first time I’ve heard of the amount of rubbish in our seas. This is a very big symbol or wasteful societies and we need to start recycling. Its on a line with the junk in space, where ever we humans go we leave waste

  4. WOW! i never knew that we would put that much rubbish in our ocean. this srticle really helped wiht my homework thanks!

  5. This is the first time I’ve listen about the amount of waste in our seas. This is a very giant symbol or wasteful societies and we need to start recycling. Its on a line with the junk in space, where ever we humans go we leave waste.

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