Ocean Plastic Garbage Patch, This is What it Looks Like

The most famous example of an ocean gyre’s tendency to collect our trash is the Great Pacific Ocean Plastic Garbage Patch located within the North Pacific Gyre (shown here). While this is the most infamous garbage patch, it is not the only one in the ocean. Researchers have discovered two more areas where a “soup” of concentrated marine debris collects—one in the South Pacific Ocean, the other in the North Atlantic.

9 Shocking Facts About Plastics in Our Oceans

1) Every half second, this much plastic makes it into the world’s oceans.

Image of volume of plastic that enters the ocesn every half second - plastic garbage patch

Taken at the UN’s Clean Seas Exhibit in New York 

2) At least 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. That’s similar to emptying a garbage truck of plastic into an ocean every minute.

3) There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way.

4) 322 million tons of plastic were produced in 2015—the same weight as 900 Empire State Buildings (which is made of granite and steel).

5) 60-90 percent of marine litter is plastic-based.

6) More than 50 percent of sea turtles have consumed plastic.

7) The average U.S. citizen consumes 167 plastic water bottles each year—but recycles just 25 percent of them.

Image of empty plastic bottles - plastic garbage patch

8) The amount of plastic in the world’s oceans could increase by a factor of 10 in the next decade.

9) Cigarette butts, plastic bags, fishing gear, and food and beverage containers are the most common forms of plastic pollution found in the oceans.


Plastic waste that finds its way to the ocean tends to accumulate in gyres (areas of slow swirling water and low winds) and along coastlines. Gyres are clockwise currents that trap the plastic within, while the exposure to sun and sea breaks up the plastic into smaller and smaller pieces. There are 5 such garbage patches. These are located in the North & South Pacific Ocean, in the North & South Atlantic Ocean and in the Indian Ocean.

The estimates of the size of an ocean plastic garbage patch varies from 700,000 square km to 15,000,000 Sq km. In some parts the garbage is tightly packed to form islands of trash and in some other parts less so. The following videos show what a minute part of an ocean garbage patch looks like.