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16.2: Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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    The case study below was completed by Peron Scott Van Fleet as a final project for Chemistry 150 at Modesto Junior College in Spring 2020. He is the sole author of the content.

    The Great Pacific garbage patch, also described as the Pacific trash vortex, is a collection of trash, collected by the currents of the ocean. “It spans waters from the West Coast of North America, to Japan.”(  The one I will be talking about the most is the one closest to use, the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the United States of America of Hawaii and California.

    Pacific Garbage Patch Map from NOAA, public domain

    The main subject I am going to talk about is the plastic found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the density for plastic as well, and how the plastic is harmful to the animals.

    The most common plastic to find in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is plastic 2, and plastic 1, and the plastic that is found is around the size of rice grans, they turn to plastic microfibers. The ones that are found together and still intact are Plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles, and styrofoam cups. They estimate an 80,000 metric tons in the patch, with 1.8 trillion plastic pieces of trash. If you don't know how many metric tons is, look at section Dimensional Analysis in the textbook.

    There are 7 plastic types that are found in and out of your house. The most common types you see are bottle caps, and plastic water bottles, these are plastic 1. If you don't know the types here they are. Please look at the section on density from the textbook if you don't remember about density.

    ●      Plastic 1: Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) “Is what’s used to make bottles for soda, water and other drinks, plastic peanut butter jars and containers for other food items.” Density is 1.38 g/cm3

    ●      Plastic 2: High density polyethylene (HDPE) “They’re those used to make milk jugs, shampoo bottles, cleaning product containers and detergent bottles.” Density is 0.93 g/cm3

    ●      Plastic 3: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) It’s used for a huge array of household products. Plastic tubing, kids’ toys, plastic trays and furniture are often made out of PVC. Density is 1.38 g/cm3

    ●      Plastic 4 : Low density polyethylene (LDPE) A lot of plastic wrappings are made of LDPE plastic. It’s also used to make grocery bags, and the bags that hold newspapers, among other things. Density is  0.910–0.940 g/cm3

    ●      Plastic 5 : (Polypropylene) PP is used to make the food containers used for products like yogurt, and other dairy products. It’s made into straws, rope, carpet and bottle caps. Density is .90 g/cm3

    ●      Plastic 6: (Polystyrene) PS Styrofoam products are made out of PS plastic, it used to make disposable coffee cups, packing peanuts, coolers and to-go food containers. Density is 1.06 g/cm3

    ●      Plastic 7: Other Products stamped with a 7 are often made out of multiple plastic types or out of other types of plastic that can’t easily be recycled. Density is ?

    The website for this information on all 7 plastic types are from ( you can not get the density from there.

    Fun fact: the first plastic based on a synthetic polymer was made from phenol and formaldehyde, with the first viable and cheap synthesis methods invented in 1907. Another fun fact: “plastic bags can take 20 years to decompose in the ocean, plastic bottles up to 450 years, and fishing line, 600 years.” (

    The ocean is one of the most abundant resources on this planet. “About 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth's water. So only 4.5 is fresh water, the other is salt water.” (

    ●      About 3.5 percent of the weight of seawater comes from the dissolved salts

    ●      The density of surface seawater ranges from about 1020 to 1029 kg/m3

    ●      Salt in seawater salinity is about 35 parts per thousand, on average.


    The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a very dangerous thing for marine life as well as several different species of birds. Over 1 million marine animals (including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds) are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. Major causes of death are caused by ingesting a material such as plastic. Sharp-edged plastic kills birds by punching holes in internal organs. Some seabirds eat so much plastic, there is little room left in their gut for food, which affects their body weight, jeopardizing their health. Or getting caught in material or trash. (Plastic bag, and more items)


    Learning Question

    For these questions look at the section on density and Dimensional Analysis from the textbook.

    1. What is 80,000 metric tons in grams or g?
    2. Compare plastic 1 density to plastic 2  density, to see which has the highest density. What is the difference in their densities?
    3. Use the answer from the first question for the mass, and use plastic 1 density, to find the volume in mL.



    Article: Marine Debris and Plastics

    Author: unknown

    Date: unknown


    Website: nationalgeographic

    Article: Ocean Trash: 5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting, but Big Questions Remain

    Author: Laura Parker

    Last Updated: Feb. 22, 2019


    Website: nationalgeographic

    Article:Great Pacific Garbage Patch

    Author: Jeannie Evers

    Last Updated: Feb. 22, 2019



    Article: Threats from Marine Debris

    Author: unknown

    Date: unknown



    Article: Why is the ocean salty?

    Author: NOAA

    Date: 11/13/19



    Article: Our Oceans: A Plastic Soup

    Author: RENEE CHO

    Date: JANUARY 26, 2011




    Article: How Much Water is There on Earth?

    Author: no author found

    Date: no date found




    Article: 300-Mile Swim Through The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Will Collect Data On Plastic Pollution

    Author: Scott Snowden

    Date: May 30, 2019


      16.2: Great Pacific Garbage Patch is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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