Peter Davis, head of the British Plastics Federation (BPF), condemned poor waste management and too-frequent marine littering for the huge swathe of rubbish that has been dubbed the world’s rubbish dump. Known officially as the North Pacific Gyre, the floating patch of debris has been estimated at twice the size of the US state of Texas and is characterised by exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastics – many of which are believed to come from food and beverage containers.
Situated some 1,000 miles off the US west coast, the vortex of trash has been formed by wind and water currents from tonnes of plastic containers that end up in the ocean after either being dumped from vessels, blown off land by the wind or from overflowing sewage systems. The rubbish does not biodegrade and instead lies suspended at or beneath the surface of the water – making it invisible to satellite photography despite its bulk.
The BPF said the sprawling mass of garbage should not exist and called for a clampdown on the practices that have caused the problem. Improvements in waste management on shore and at sea as well as providing better education on littering are all needed, added the group.
Hazards to marine life
The body was responding to the findings last month by a team from California that the gyre was far larger than previously thought. Disturbingly, the scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of San Diego found that most of the rubbish has disintegrated into tiny plastic bits – some the size of a thumbnail – raising fears they could be harming sea life that may be ingesting them.
“They’re the right size to be interacting with the food chain out there,” said research team leader Miriam Goldstein.
The team also found examples of barnacles clamped onto plastic water bottles, prompting the team to begin studying the marine life that inhabits the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Plastics industry not responsible
“The Plastics industry does not put plastic into the seas,” said BPF head Davis. “This is caused by littering, illegal dumping, and poor waste management. We want the plastic back to be recycled or provide much needed energy through energy from waste combustion. International co-operation is needed to make this work, it is a global problem.”
The plastics federation said it backed the United Nations Environmental programme's report last year that highlighted the difficulties in obtaining accurate information and called for a raft of measures – including integrated waste management to tackle litter; improved port waste collection facilities; and stronger economic incentives, fines, and enforcement.
The BPF also said it had launched its own UK initiative called Operation Clean Sweep – Plastic Pellet Loss Prevention, in a bid to reduce plastics escaping into the environment. The body said it hoped to get the commitment from every company to use its Clean Sweep manual on prevention and clean up of plastic materials.