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Composition of the trash
The information already existing on floating plastic waste has commonly been supported by information collected through small trawl systems, once a time developed to recover sea elements as plankton. These small trawls typically collect just pieces of small plastic and it makes it difficult to track where they are coming from.
Bigger plastic objects may give another history. Actually, they may carry traces that helps to clarify their geographical origin, age, and specific source. Despite that, those items are rarely collected by experts.
An incredible example of this was given by the Ocean Cleanup team in the year 2019 with their System 001/B. They collected over 6000 hard plastic waste items from the Great Pacific Garbage and studied them with the help of their scientists. Every item was classified into defined categories and then investigated separately to get evidence of country of origin and date of production (The clues included text on the objects, brands, logos, and other identifying texts such as address or phone number, etc.).
That exhaustive investigation disclosed that approximately a third of the items were untraceable. The other two-thirds were compounded with fishing objects, such as baskets, fish boxes, buoys, crates, eel traps, drums, containers, and jerrycans.
Roughly almost half of plastic already identified (49%) was made in the 20th century, with even a buoy item dated since 1966 that is considered now the oldest item found. The investigations from Ocean Cleanup have shown an important manifestation of old-decade objects in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It also re-affirms that plastic pollution into the garbage is increasingly persistent and can cause harm for long periods, utterly degrading into microplastic and becoming incredibly hard to remove.
In summary, the results highlight the vital necessity to clean the trash island, because even when some actions have been taken to prevent plastic emission from the river mouth, the patch is persistent and its content will continue raising and will eventually split out into microplastic and sink to the seabed.
The following items or regions were identified on the items: Japan (34%), China (32%), The Korean Peninsula (10%), and the USA (7%). Contrary to expectations, other countries known to have high river plastic emissions, such as the Philippines for example, had not a significant representation in the plastic items collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Even though Japan, China, the Korean peninsula, and the USA are not perceived as great sources of plastic emissions by its river, they lead the majority of industrialized fishing processes nearest the Great Pacific Garbage Patch region. This fact shows that the presence of plastic in an area depends on many factors and cannot be entirely perceptive.
Major waste contributors to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The model used in the investigation (releasing virtual plastic particles into the ocean and simulating its dispersion) has led to know more information about the source of the plastic waste. It showed strong data to know that the biggest portion of the floating plastic waste in the Garbage Patch is coming from fishing activities at sea and, not a direct emission from the land. The percentage of contribution will be as follows: Trawler activity has 48% of fishing activity, with an 18% for fixed gear and drifting longline 14%. Another 16% corresponds to fishing particle emissions. In summary, the aforementioned contributors accounted for more than 95% of the plastic emission to the Garbage Patch.
Why does this data help to save the ocean?
In order to fully clean the plastic items from the ocean, we first need to know where they are, how they enter the ocean, and what happens when they are all in. This guide us to get a more detailed landscape and awareness of its composition, sources, quantity, and origin. Moreover, clear information about floating trash helps to generate effective and efficient mitigation strategies against ocean pollution.
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