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[Feature] [20 Must-know GEI] 10. Where have islands of trash floating in the ocean come from?

by Eco Generation | 12-08-2016 10:52 Comments 0 recommendations 0

20 Must know issue title

10. Where have islands of trash floating in the ocean come from?


“An island was found in the ocean, but it turned out to be a trash heap.”

“A trash heap? An island of trash in the ocean? I've never heard of it!”

“They say all sorts of trash has gotten together creating an island. Most of them are plastic trash, and it's called ‘plastic soup,‘ because they are similar to thick soup.”

“Plastics? I don’t think I use plastic products that often.”

“Are you kidding? Plastic bottles, toothbrushes, disposable cups, disposable forks, chairs in the classroom, fans, pens, toys, computers, cell phones, and even cars are made from plastics.”

“Wow! I had no idea plastics are used so much.”

20 Must know issue 10-1


1. Plastics do not disappear?

Being solid, durable and relatively inexpensive to produce, plastics have been widely used in our everyday lives to make them convenient. If there were no plastics, our lives would be very inconvenient. Why does using plastic products cause problems?

It takes a long time for plastics to decompose, so disposed plastics keep piling up. Even in the process of decomposition, they cause lots of environmental problems by degrading into small pieces. In addition, according to the website of MRC Polymers, only 8% of plastics are recycled. 90% of trash in the ocean is plastics, most of which comes from domestic plastic waste. In the ocean, plastics degrade into small pieces and absorb floating chemical materials such as oil. Plastic debris covered with chemicals discharge toxic substances in the process of decomposition into the ocean, causing deadly effects.



 20 Must know issue 10-2

TOP 10 items found in the ocean / Source: International Coastal Cleanup, Ocean Conservancy, 2012


2. What impact does plastic trash have?

Toxic substances absorbed during the process of plastic decomposition pollute rainwater or seawater. Sometimes plastics are burned to be disposed of, which generates hazardous chemicals as well. Plastic trash in the ocean threatens marine ecosystems, as fish, turtles and birds mistake it for food and ingest it. It goes the same for land animals toxic substances ingested by marine animals are accumulated throughout the food chain, and end up affecting humans’ health negatively.

Furthermore, rapidly accumulating plastic trash costs a lot of money and effort during the cleaning and managing process. Damage by plastics will continue to accumulate in ecosystems until existing plastic trash goes away, even if we start reducing waste right now, by affecting animals, plants and people.


3. What has been done to solve pollution problems caused by plastic waste?

International organizations and governments have managed the disposal and recycling process of plastic waste through various agreements, treaties and guidelines. Scientists have been researching and developing technologies to produce biodegradable plastic, corn-based plastic and recycled plastic. In order to reduce the use of plastic products, laws restricting the use of disposable plastic bags and plastic bottles have been enacted, and movements cutting down on disposable products or using canvas bags instead of plastic products have been conducted.

Boyan Slat from the Netherlands came across a trash heap in the ocean when he went for a diving certification at the age of 16.

 “I can’t believe marine fish are dying because of plastics from land! How can I get rid of them?” Boyan came up with the idea that he would make the ocean clean up the waste by itself he designed a system for concentrating and catching plastic debris driven by rotating currents called gyres, where profits are created by selling collected plastic waste. When he turned 20, he established a company called Ocean Cleanup. With the idea, he has become the youngest ever winner of the Champions of the Earth, awarded by UNEP. Like Boyan, our interest and efforts can make a huge difference in the world.


4. What can we do in our everyday lives?

The Plastic-Free Movement emphasizes the 4 Rs for reducing plastic waste. Why don’t you practice them in your daily life?


Refuse: Do not use over-packaged products or products packed in plastic bags or containers. Do not purchase products that create a lot of plastic waste in the first place.

Reduce: If it is not easy to buy those products in the first place, reduce your use of plastic products in your everyday life. Restrain from using plastic-based daily supplies such as cups or straws as much as possible.

Reuse: Many disposable products are made from plastic. Use reusable products such as stainless tumblers and glass bottles instead of disposable products. As some disposable products can be used over and over again, do not throw away disposable products without a second thought, but rather reuse them.

 • Recycle: If you have to use plastic products, separate them properly so that they can be recycled.


There are already various plastic products widely used in our daily lives. What are those we use unconsciously? Look around you and think first if they are necessary and how you would dispose of the remaining waste. Lastly, it is important to pay attention to plastic waste problems and make responsible disposal of your own waste a habit.


[Learn More!]

1. <Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans> by Charles Moore and Cassandra Phillips.

Charles Moore, who discovered the island of trash for the first time, describes his experience. The book talks about plastic oceans.

2. <Plastic: A Toxic Love Story> by Susan Freinkel.

We use a lot of plastics in our daily lives. This book explains the history, culture, economy, science and politics of plastics.


Referential materials

1. Plastic Pollution Coalition: Information on plastic pollution


2. Ocean Cleanup


3. Ocean Conservancy


4. MRC Polymer webpage


Script by : Prof. Yoon, Sun-jin's Environment & Energy Lab
                Seoul National University
Illustration by : Kim, Jeong-kyeom


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