The vast majority (80%) of the 8 million tons of plastic that wash into the world’s oceans each year comes from inland sources—water bottles left on soccer fields, garbage bags, wind-tossed go-cup lids and straws. Swept into storm drains and rivers, these and other plastic items flow out to sea, where ocean currents corral the mess into five giant whirlpools, or gyres. The largest, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is the size of Texas.
The plastic in these gyres wreaks all sorts of environmental havoc—entangling wildlife; sickening the fish, birds, turtles and whales that eat it; and threatening human health by making its way up the food chain and onto our plates. The problem is so pervasive that samples scooped from beaches show that sand, once made from rock and coral, is turning into pulverized plastic. Health experts predict that within five years U.S. labs will regularly test human blood samples for polymers, PCBs and other synthetic chemicals.