Floating toxic plastic garbage island twice the size of Texas

kosmik ray says: "A little-known island continent of floating toxic plastic garbage, TWICE the size of Texas, is growing in the pacific between Califormnia and Hawaii. Officially known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, until it can be taxed, U.S. officials will continue to ignore it. I heard of it once many years ago, but it apparently has been growing tenfold each decade since the 1950's, and now consists of 80% plastic. It has also been called Gilligan's Island, from the trashy TV sitcom that won't go away."
The enormous stew of trash - which consists of 80 percent plastics and weighs some 3.5 million tons, say oceanographers - floats where few people ever travel, in a no-man's land between San Francisco and Hawaii.


The patch has been growing, along with ocean debris worldwide, tenfold every decade since the 1950s, said Chris Parry, public education program manager with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco.



  1. I’m inclined to believe this just because it’s so plausible (after all, the Horse Latitudes are a well-documented phenomenon) but I still find myself relegating it to the class of urban legend. If it’s there, why aren’t there more images of it? And “twice the size of Texas” has so much potential for exaggeration; at a low enough density, I am also twice the size of Texas.

  2. 80% of something twice the size of Texas is an awful lot of petroleum byproducts. Somebody’s going to make some serious money out there someday.

  3. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been extensively documented by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, whose founder, Capt. Charles Moore, submitted a report on it to the United Nations Environmental Programme. You can read it here:
    In addition, Moore’s work was the subject of an entire chapter in “The World Without Us” by journalist Alan Weisman, who explores ways the planet might recover from all the damage we’ve wrought on our environment. Here’s a link to his website.
    Weisman recently spoke in the Phoenix area, and here’s a link to the blog item I wrote about his appearance.

    John D’Anna

  4. Just a though—half-joking/half-serious—but can we have some competition to develop a rocket to blast our unbiodegradable garbage into the sun?

  5. An area of polluted water with occasional pieces of floating garbage is not an “island continent.”

  6. This would be better described as an area of horrific density of plastic bits floating on the surface – not an island. I was disappointed The Gate didn’t have pictures.

    How many oceanic gyres are there on the earth?

    David B.

  7. @phasor3000

    3.5 million tons, or 7 BILLION POUNDS is a fuckload of garbage. it isn’t just “polluted water.” also, even if the trash doesn’t surface alot, it would still be continent like in size, and horrible for marine life under the surface.

    it seems like you’re trivializing an important issue to nitpick about it’s label.

  8. I don’t mean to trivialize it, but from skimming through that video, and doing a Google image search, so far my impression is that these folks are being rather hyperbolic using terms like “an island twice the size of Texas,” which makes me skeptical about their other data. If it can’t be seen (and therefore measured) from the air, how did they come up with these figures for area and total mass?

  9. @David B

    There’s no need to sign your comments. We have a link to your website through the “wrench” icon by your username (which needs to be corrected by adding “http://”). Furthermore, we have your username to identify that you’re indeed, David B.

  10. …Ok, now I’ve *finally* heard a “big fish story” to beat the best one of all – the one about the albino marijuana growing in the NYC sewers that’s the best in the world, but is $10,000 a joint because it’s guarded by all those alligators :p

    Someone tell the CT nutters that all is forgiven now, and they can bring back their Grassy Knoll gunmen again…

  11. Let’s see, twice the size of Texas would be 520,000 square miles. If it’s been “growing tenfold each decade since the 1950s,” then roughly:

    2007 = 520,000 sq mi
    1997 = 52,000 sq mi
    1987 = 5,200 sq mi
    1977 = 520 sq mi
    1967 = 52 sq mi
    1957 = 5 sq mi

    Take 1977 with about 500 square miles, or say a 25 x 20 mile area. What are the odds that anyone would even notice a 25 x 20 square mile area of water with garbage floating in it at the density shown in the videos (and probably less at that time), especially in that area? And a decade before that?

  12. RE the notion of blasting the stuff into the Sun:

    It would take a huge fleet of rockets and an incredible amount of propellant to do that.

    It would take far less energy to gather it up and turn it into inert blocks. Or recycle it into something useful.

  13. Debris has been collecting there for centuries. It’s a quirk of the ocean currents. The area is a dead spot surrounded by a current vortex. So it acts a sort of “roach motel” for any any floating junk. The only difference is that the materials now getting trapped there don’t degrade as quickly as materials of the past (more plastics, less organics).

  14. I wonder if I’ve seen some of this first hand. Last year my wife and I were vacationing on the west side of the island of Hawaii and one day this big mess washed up on the beach of the resort. I’ve posted a couple of pictures for the curious.

    The mass was crawling with little crabs and it took a tractor to haul the thing away in pieces after they cut it up.


  15. @Jack

    For reals…NASA needs to come up with an astrogarbage truck to jettison all our crap into what is basically one giant nuclear furnace.

  16. 3.5 million tons, or 7 BILLION POUNDS is a fuckload of garbage.

    Spread out over an area twice the size of Texas, you’ll note. Which is roughly 1.6 trillion square yards. Doing the math:

    1,600,000,000,000 square yards
    /7,000,000,000 pounds =
    1 pound every 228 square yards
    21.2 pounds/acre

    In metric units:
    1,360,000,000,000 sq meters
    /3,200,000,000 kilograms =
    1 kilogram every 425 square meters
    23.5 kilograms/hectare

    A lot of garbage, but not dense enough to be mistaken for an island.

  17. i can already see the BB post in 10 years, when someone has found a way to clean the mess up .. but by then it has become a natural habitat for birds and everyone screams “NO”

    I was thinking about checking google earth too .. but comments above made it clear that it is not an ‘island continent’

  18. @the comments about sending stuff to the sun

    I’ve always pondered whether that would be the ultimate answer to all of our nuc waste. However, don’t you just have a 2nd thought, even a small one, that we should go messing around with our source of heat, light, and life? I’m sorry, but I could never stand behind the idea of sending anything our Star.

  19. 3.5 million tons is nothing. Keele Valley Landfill near Toronto contains 30 million tons of garbage, and it’s no where near “twice the size of Texas”. In fact, it’s only 930 acres. Texas is 261,800 square miles. Twice that is 335,200,000 acres.

    If this “3.5 million ton floating garbage island” were packed into the density you normally find in a landfill, it would take up only about 100 acres. Or to put it another way, to get an island twice the size of Texas, at normal landfill density (make a proper island) you’d need 3 million times as much garbage as is floating in the “island” right now.

    Sure it’s bad to have so much rubbish floating in the ocean. But this isn’t an island. It’s more like sprinkling a bit of pepper on a bowl of soup.

  20. I must vigorously protest the use of cherished cultural artifact “Gilligan’s Island” to floating conglomeration of refuse.

  21. Sounds like this is a perfect area to start building a floating city — plenty of raw materials around to build more land. As silly as it sounds, I think we will eventually have a New New York, and possibly in the Pacific.

    Can anyone donate a used nuclear submarine? We’ll need some power to start with…

  22. I’m still struck by the following conundrum:

    1. Hawaii has to import all its oil.

    2. Honolulu (at least) is running out of landfill space, to the point where it may be economic to ship its trash to a proposed landfill in Idaho (cannot cite sources, but this is reliable).

    3. There are 3.5 million tons of hydrocarbon-rich material floating off its shore.

    Why doesn’t Hawaii get into the garbage-to-oil processing business? Given the cost of importing oil, the high cost of clean-up, and problems with existing landfills in Hawaii (i.e. they’re filling up with no alternatives) it might be economical for them to do it, where it wouldn’t make sense on the mainland.

    Basically, I’d suggest either floating a refinery out in the trash patch, to pick up material and break it down into something that can be reused (i.e. hydrocarbons), or collecting it and shipping it to land-based plants where the same can happen.

    Yes, where plastics are converted into hydrocarbons that are burned, this does add to global warming. While I dislike the threat of global warming, I think the threat of the garbage to marine life is far more pervasive. One real problem is when the plastic pellets get small enough to be eaten by plankton. At that point, they disrupt the entire food chain, and that’s bad.

    In any case, garbage-to-oil schemes might be cost-effective on other islands, not just Hawaii. It’s not glamorous, but we’ve got to get used to making something out of the trash, not just throwing it away.

    Otherwise, this geologic age will become known as the “Plasticene” for the biggest geological marker of human presence.

  23. Unfortunatley … This area is not really shown on Google earth.
    A few miles off shore all they display is ocean topology (topography?).
    They don’t show the surface.
    It might be worth their while to do a few flyovers and see what they can see.

  24. Followed all the links in the comments here except the one to a video, and was disappointed to find zero photographs of the actual area. Everything links to diagrams or photos of garbage on beaches or in rivers.

  25. @ Calton,

    Twice the area of Texas is NOT 1.6 trillion square yards. Texas, according to the US Census Bureau in 2000, has an area of 261,797 square miles, which is only (approximately) 9.2 million square yards.

    Therefore, instead of there being 1 pound of garbage every 228 square yards, like you mentioned, there should be about 2535 pounds of garbage every foot. Which is quite a difference.

  26. @kr11825

    Alright, I was searching for info on the trash island and the last post bugged me so much that I created an account just to correct it.

    By that math there would only be around 36 square yards per square mile, which is obviously wrong. It’s so far off that I can’t even see what you were trying to do.

    Each square mile is 1760 yards wide by 1760 yards long. So, there are over 3 million square yards in a mile. The original calculation is correct and you are way off.

  27. Psychotroic: I feel very stupid now, thanks for the correction. I see where I went wrong. Oops. :)

  28. @ kr11825

    big kudos for appologizing and taking the error. I wished all web discussions were this interesting and civil

  29. Ok those of you that are wondering, “How does a 3.5 million ton mount of garbage float” I’m gonna make it clear.

    It doesn’t matter how much it weighs. It matters what the mount consists of.Did you know that if we had a tub big enough, Saturn would FLOAT!!!!! but it’s very unlikely that we could because saturn is bigger than earth and I don’t think the sun aliens would put in the effort to build one. :)

  30. Though I understand concern for misrepresentation (words like “island” and “continent” evoke mental images of a surface as dense and walkable as land) this is not so important. Bioaccumulation is the more important issue (described well at http://www.thechicecologist.com/2009/06/pacific-plastic-trash-island/

    “say some plankton (very small animals at the bottom of the food chain) eat some of this plastic. Then, a hundred of these plankton are then eaten by a small fish, like a Sardine. Then a Mackerel eats 25 of these Sardines. Then a Tuna eats 10 of these Mackerels. Then you eat a Tuna. Well guess what, you just ate a bunch of plastic, just how much? 100 (plankton) x 25 (Sardines) x 10 (Mackerels) = 25,000 pieces! Through a process called bioaccumulation, the amount of a substance is concentrated as it is passed up through the food chain”

    So, ok, if it was as dense as a landfill it wouldn’t be the size of Texas, but that doesn’t matter. The only reason why it’s size matters is that there’s a larger number of plankton and jellyfish welcoming these plastics into the food supply. If you told me that at the density of lead it would be the size of a Prius, I’d care about as much as hearing the ratio of asbestos to gravel.

    Tangenish: if it were compacted as much as possible (with magic, we’ll say) it would be a good thing because less surface area would be exposed to photodegredation and less volume of water would have as high a density bioaccumulating species-threatening poisons.

  31. OH my gosh that is very scary 3.5 million tons of waste. I cant believe the people that do not recycle. Twice the size of Texas. I never amagined how bad this is.

  32. Many kinds of plankton eat smaller organisms and plastic bits of about the same size could be easily mistaken for their food. These plankton, Zooplankton, are animals not plants – they don’t eat “nothing but sunlight.”

  33. @Sierre Lemeu

    The photo you referenced is actually a phenomenon associated with plankton “hatching” off the coast of Japan. No pics exist of this supposed island because it doesn’t exist…it’s a hoax!

  34. From one of the links above, I discovered that this area of the ocean–not just the Texas-sized one, but the African-Continent sized area–is considered an oceanic desert.

    Sailors avoided this area because of lack of wind; fishermen avoid it because of lack of fish to catch. While it’s a concern that a lot of trash is focused in this area, there are worse places it could vortex to!

    Of course, if the trash were to vortex to those places, chances are, they would be relatively devoid of life too.

  35. Instead of shipping this stuff to the sun why not convert the Japanese Whaling fleet to garbage collectors and harvest (recycle) this garbage. Since these ships are “research” vessels anyway surely some of the Japanese scientist could engineer a practicle economical retrofit.

  36. please be concient about what you do with plastic!!! i think this so sad!! if i could help !! i would help

  37. I am a beachcomber in Washington state and I love it when a storm tears through the “dump” and brings us all kind of interesting stuff! Is there a website that tells when this occurs?A heads up would be great! Thanks!

  38. We all need to make a change in our living habits. It’s just neglectful and unresponsible. In 1950 their carefree attitude about trash was unchangeable, but now we all know now what waste can do to our planet, and we can make changes today.

  39. For those thinking NASA is crap for not building a rocket and sending it all to the sun think about this that garbage comes from the earth like almost every thing on the planet.our planet runs on a closed circle which means we don’t get huge shipments of nutrients and more earth mas from some mystical place what we have is all were going to have unless we move to a different planet so if we shoot our garbage to the sun after a while there will be no earth it will have been all shot a t the sun

  40. So, I took the time to read all of these comments and I see the truth to the points of, “pepper in a bowl of soup” and “even though it’s not dense enough to walk on, it is covering a vast area of space and that is more dangerous than density”
    thats not a direct quote, more of a summarized quote.

    to all of you that are convinced it donest exist because of the lack of pictures.
    A) you’re not searching right
    B) I’d like to see you go stand on a random floating platform above the sea far enough away to take the pictures of this trash pile

    Also, I read like ten “Anon” Comments before i realized it wasn’t the same person, I thought that was quite funny :)

  41. No doubt plastic is a problem that should have been addressed a long time ago. Archeologists in the future will call this the Plastic Era.
    I spent 27 years sailing on merchant ships and have covered most of the worlds oceans, the last 22 in the South Pacific. I never saw Islands of Garbage, on rare ocassions you would see debris, these were few and far between.
    It is a shame that in order to bring attention to a problem people resort to false hype.
    All the pictures connected with this so called Island are on shore lines. I can tell you that most port areas are an eyesore, particularly in third world contries, where those pictures came from.
    Everything people do now revolves around the almighty dollar, that’s why plastic is in such wide use. Thomas M. Kilbride
    Ex. First Assistant Engineer
    SS LNG Libra

  42. Calling it a ‘Garbage Island’ isn’t exactly correct.
    Rather than being a floating body of collected trash that weighs a certain amount and that you could see from satellite, its actually an area of ocean twice the size of Texas where garbage is floating around in the water.
    So much of it has worn down and broken down into tiny pieces that if you were to run a strainer through it you’d come out with a whole bunch of stuff. The problem with this is that they are so small it’s impossible to collect all of it and because of the material, it will never fully break down and disappear. Essentially, we can’t fix it.

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