Imagine if plastic had been invented when the pilgrims sailed to North America. What if the Mayflower had been filled with plastic‑wrapped snacks? The trash would probably still be here, four centuries later.
Plastic was invented in the late 19th century. Its mass production started in 1950. In only 70 years, we have produced a whopping 9.2 billion tons of plastic. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And, of that waste, 6.3 billion tons were never recycled.
Is this a florist’s shop filled with flowers? Look again. These plants are all made from plastic.
No one knows how much plastic ends up in the ocean. But one professor guessed.
Professor Jenna Jambeck calculated that between 5.3 and 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. Will it ever biodegrade, or break down? Maybe. Maybe not.
Plastic has transformed our lives in many ways. It eased travel into space. It changed medicine. It extended the life of food. Plastic even saved wildlife. In the mid‑1800s, elephant ivory was used to make combs and other trinkets. Ivory became scarce. A company offered a reward to whoever could create an alternative. Inventor John Wesley Hyatt created a material from a substance found in plants. It became known as plastic.
Henderson Island’s Shame
Henderson Island is a tiny island. It sits in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. No one lives there. And it is half the size of Manhattan. Yet more than 19 tons of trash litter its beaches, most of it plastic.
Researchers estimate that it has the greatest amount of debris for its size of any place in the world. They think it has more than 37 million pieces of trash. For every square meter you walk, you’ll find about 672 pieces of trash. For each piece of debris you see on the beach, two pieces are buried in the sand. How does so much trash wash ashore on Henderson Island?
Trash bobs across the seas until it gets swept into the South Pacific gyre. The gyre is a circular ocean current. It functions like a conveyor belt. The gyre collects plastic trash. Then it sends it to Henderson’s shores.
an uninhabited island prized for its animal diversity
More than 37 million pieces of plastic on the island.