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Plastic ice bag found by a NOAA expedition to the Marianas in 2016. Image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Plastic ice bag found by a NOAA expedition to the Marianas in 2016. Image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research


The Inertia

You know, of course, that we’ve thrown our garbage to all four corners of the globe. You know that the earth is awash in plastic. It lines our beaches at the high tide line, sits where the curb meets the street, and hangs in chain link fences. Errant grocery bags fly through the air, riding the same currents as birds. And now it’s been discovered that there are even plastic bags at the very deepest point in the ocean. That’s right! We did it! We got our plastic bags down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, some 36,000 feet deep.

According to a new study published by Marine Policy, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology spend decades assessing just how bad things really are. In an attempt to find out just how far-reaching our plastic problem is, they put an army of submarines all in specific places in the world’s oceans from 1983 all the way up to 2017. In short, researchers took as much information from a database that reports plastic debris pollution in the deep sea.

“The Global Oceanographic Data Center (GODAC) of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) launched the Deep-sea Debris Database for public use in March 2017,” reads the study’s abstract. “The database archives photographs and videos of debris that have been collected since 1983 by deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles.”

There are over 5,000 recorded dives in the database. In them, 3,425 pieces of man-made debris were counted. As you’ve probably already guessed, it’s almost all single-use plastics.

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“The data show that, in addition to resource exploitation and industrial development, the influence of land-based human activities has reached the deepest parts of the ocean in areas more than 1000 km from the mainland,” the authors wrote. “Establishment of international frameworks on monitoring of deep-sea plastic pollution as an Essential Ocean Variable and a data sharing protocol are the keys to delivering scientific outcomes that are useful for the effective management of plastic pollution and the conservation of deep-sea ecosystems.”

During those thousands of research missions, they found over 3,000 pieces of debris at depths deep than 6,000 meters (19,685 feet). The trash was mostly plastic, including bags and bottle caps, which will be floating around down there for eons. Thirty-three percent off all the debris found was macro-plastics, and nearly 90 percent of that was comprised of single-use plastics. Sure, it’ll slowly break up, but it’ll break up into smaller and smaller pieces, then get eaten by something that will get eaten by something else that will get eaten by something else and then maybe we’ll eat that. Recent studies have found that billions of people are already drinking microplastics directly out of the tap and in 93 percent of bottled water. They say a human being is made up of about 70 percent water. While that’s not exactly true, (more like 55 percent) pretty soon, we’ll be adding plastic to our general composition.