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  • In January 1992, a cargo ship sailing from Hong Kong to Washington hit a storm, and twelve

  • containers tumbled overboard, releasing a fleet of blue turtles, green frogs, red beavers,

  • and yellow ducks.

  • 28,800 animals, destined for bathtubs, now a lonely plastic navy, drifting in the Pacific

  • Ocean.

  • Then they started to float ashore.

  • Along the Alaska coast, Washington State, some even traveled as far as the British Isles.

  • But a few ended up here, in a swirling spiral of floating junk: the Great Pacific Garbage

  • Patch.

  • There's five, or maybe six spots on Earth where rotating currents gather masses of plastic

  • debris.

  • But go there and you won't see mountains of yellow ducks, red beavers, and novelty

  • sunglasses.

  • Not alarming as Garbage Island, but a lot more dangerous.

  • The high-density plastics we use to make consumables (think water bottles, straws, and Frappuccino

  • cups) are broken down by sun, waves, and curious critters until what's left is less like

  • garbage rafts and more like tiny bits of confetti, floating in soup.

  • That soup is is bad news for what lives there, which is ironic, since plastic was invented

  • to save animals.

  • During the 19th century, the demand for ivory billiard balls decimated elephant populations,

  • forcing chemists to look for a synthetic alternative.

  • They found it 1907.

  • Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic.

  • Of course the real boom didn't come until the mid 20th century.

  • "I just want to say one word to you.

  • Just one word."

  • "Yes sir?"

  • "Are you listening?"

  • "Yes I am."

  • "Plastics."

  • Modern plastics are so strong that a 60-gram jug can carry 4 kilograms of milk.

  • But despite being so durable, plastic is also cheap.

  • So cheap that much of it's designed to be used just once.

  • Even when it ends up in the trash can, or better yet, the recycling bin, every year

  • more than 8 million tons of plastic waste leak into the ocean.

  • That's about 15 plastic shopping bags worth for every meter of coastline on Earth.

  • Because that plastic is broken down into nearly invisible bits, it makes it hard to figure

  • out just how large those polluted patches are.

  • Is it one Texas?

  • Two, or four Texases?

  • Or is it Texi?

  • Whatever.

  • That puny plastic potpourri also means most of those ocean-skimming cleanup ideas you

  • hear about won't work, and truth is, while we might hear a lot about these flotillas

  • of flotsam, we find plastic in everywhere we find ocean, and at every depth, even the

  • deepest.

  • Birds and younger sea animals that can't dive deep to find their dinner end up feeding

  • near the surface where they encounter more plastic.

  • Larger debris can certainly tangle these animals up, but many end up eating plastic toosometimes

  • by accident.

  • To a sea turtle?

  • Floating trash looks a lot like dinner.

  • And smaller debris, when ingested by young fish, can interfere with growth and development.

  • On the small scale, the tiny organisms who recycle whale poop, driftwood, and old ships

  • can't break down microscopic plastic debris, and those tiny bits can absorb toxins which

  • are concentrated as they move up the food chain, even to our plates.

  • But that plate

  • is somewhere we can make a difference.

  • When it comes to plastic pollution, just remember the 6 R's

  • Reduce!

  • Choose to buy fewer things that are packaged in non-recyclable plastic.

  • Did you know that stores like Amazon often let you choose "hassle-free" packaging?

  • Reuse!

  • Think reusable.

  • Certainly works for Hollywood.

  • Recycle!

  • Most cities have recycling programs these days, but a lot of recyclable stuff still

  • gets thrown away.

  • Stuff like clothes and shoes, full of plastic fibers.

  • So why not donate them?

  • Rethink!

  • If you build or make things, ask if there's another way to do it without using disposable

  • plastics.

  • I hear the next iPhone might be made of wood!

  • And if you own something plastic and it breaks, try to repair it rather than throw it away.

  • Finally, Refuse!

  • Just say no to disposable plastics.

  • Turn your plastic fork into metal.

  • Did you know that Americans use 500 million drinking straws every single day?

  • Did you know that you can drink with your mouth, and not use a straw?

  • Try it!

  • It doesn't suck.

  • We'll never get rid of plastic, and that's ok.

  • It's still a pretty great invention, and there's a lot of places where it makes sense.

  • But there's a lot of places where it doesn't.

  • Just ask the turtles, and the birds.

  • Stay curious.

  • I just want to say one word to you.

  • One word.

  • Subscribe!

  • And if you want to learn more about plastic pollution, ocean currents, garbage patches,

  • plus what you can do to reduce plastic waste in your own life, we put a bunch of links

  • down in the description.

[MUSIC]

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B1 US debris ocean garbage plastic waste floating recyclable

How Much Plastic is in the Ocean?

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    Jia Ling Li posted on 2018/03/28
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