We’ve talked before about the Pacific Garbage Patch, but researchers are learning more about it and garbage patches like it every day. The garbage patches that plague our world’s oceans are shrouded in mystery, so here’s the truth about what these garbage islands really are, and how to stop contributing to them.

What’s Below the Surface

Over 80 percent of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia according to National Geographic. A majority of this debris, is plastic.

Contrary to popular belief, most of the plastic in these patches cannot be seen from the surface. The majority of the waste is what scientists call microplastics, or the small bits of plastic that are smaller than five millimeters. It is estimated that there are about 1.9 million plastic bits per square mile in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These microplastics hang within the water column, creating a murky “soup” that spans an estimated area twice the size of Texas, however, because of the constant movement the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believes that it is impossible to ever truly gauge the magnitude of any patch’s size.

How do Garbage Patches Form?

When people think of garbage patches they tend to think of one floating island of waste, and it is usually the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Although it is important to note that there is not just one patch of trash floating around the ocean, in fact, there are many.

The size of these patches changes so rapidly because of large circulating ocean currents called gyres. There are five main gyres that move ocean water throughout the world. However, this circulation also acts as a sort of conveyor belt of trash around the globe, collecting garbage from shores or other garbage patches and then depositing them into another.

Garbage Patches in the Great Lakes

Oceans aren’t the only bodies of water that are being choked by plastic pollution either. A recent unpublished study from the State University of New York-Fredonia, found that three out of the five Great Lakes are contaminated at a density that surpasses the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, according to the Smithsonian.

Because the contaminants are mainly microplastics, it is believed that fish in these fresh water systems are feeding on them similarly to the way they do in the oceans, thus contaminating the fresh water fish with plastic chemicals.

Fighting Back

Going in to clean up the oceans is a costly solution that doesn’t necessarily tackle the root cause of the issue. Because such a large portion of the debris we see in these patches come from land, it is important that we start at home. Here are some ideas on how to keep our oceans clean:

  • Join a beach cleanup project if you live near the water, or, if there isn’t one planned start your own! Create a Facebook event and invite all your friends and encourage them to do the same, before you know it you will have an eco-warrior clean up team!
  • If you frequent the beach, either by a lake or the ocean, make a pact with yourself to clean up at least ten pieces of trash every time that you go-and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
  • Be mindful when you are out near bodies of water, clean up your trash and make sure you don’t bring anything that can easily fly away into the water.
  • Go plastic free! Or just reduce your use of it. If you aren’t using plastic, then you aren’t contributing to the plastic problem!

Does reducing your use of plastic sound hard? It is actually easier than you think!

The technology is out there that will allow you to refill soaps, shampoos and detergents and keep hundreds of pounds of plastic out of the environment, but retailers don’t believe that you want sustainable options.

Prove them wrong by signing the petition today and make refill, and sustainable living, a possibility for people like you.