Comprehending the Pacific Garbage Patch

Written by pete


Chris Jordan uses his photographs to illustrate the complexities and enormities of the problem with have with our consumption and its impact on the environment. Until recently his work focused on a series called “Running the numbers” which attempts to give some meaning to all the huge statistics we hear about our environmental problem. Such as…

> Two million plastic bottles are used in the US every five minutes.

Chris’ approach is to use photographs to illustrate just how big a number this is. The plastic bottles sequence can be seen at here at

A similar idea has been applied to paper grocery store bags (1.14 million used every hour), mobile phones (nearly half a million retired in the US every day) and barbie dolls (used to illustrate the 32,000 elective breast augmentation surgeries performed in the US every month during 2006). You can see the full collection on Chris Jordan’s website.

But in 2009 he changed tack and began working with some NGOs trying to raise awareness of what they call the “Pacific Garbage Patch”, an unimaginably vast stretch of trash floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

So, how to illustrate this? Jordan has used his distinctive collage approach, mapping the Gyre. But this paled in comparison to the raw imagery of the albatross carcasses on Midway Atoll, a tiny island in the North Pacific. Here, baby albatross are fed plastic picked out of the ocean and are consequently dying. The pictures of the exposed carcasses with what sometimes looks to be the contents of someone’s emptied-out pockets are extraordinary and upsetting.

You can see a video slideshow of the pictures here or see the full set of photographs here.

Torn-down forests and stranded polar bears make impressive and stirring imagery. But I don’t recall ever seeing anything as powerful as the Midway pictures that presents so clearly and directly the consequences of mass consumption and disregard for the environment. Please forward it to your friends.

You May Also Like…


  1. Chiquita Incognita

    I think it’s very important to realize what our impact is, and also to know what the solutions are. And, how simple those solutions really are, contrary to popular belief.
    When my husband and I began recycling, we found ourselves throwing out literally half the amount of garbage as we had previously done, overnight.
    Then we started to compost, and again found ourselves throwing out yet half that amount of garbage again.
    In all, we now dispose of two small shopping bags of garbage each week, and that’s with the two of us combined.
    If all of us recycle, and everyone who can composts, think of what an impact we can make. Let me add that in Germany, garbage pick-up (even in the cities) includes compost pick-up too. To dispose of compost in a separate pail is as old hat as hand-washing, nation-wide. Perhaps we each can “plug” with our local officials to get this started in our own respective areas. Next, get newspaper feature articles going, and it will be the 100th monkey.
    Further, if we all—every one of us, without exception—-reduce, reuse and recycle, then think of what a difference we can make yet again.
    It’s just as important to be encouraged as it is to be made aware of the awful facts.
    Please spread word.
    Good ways to go about this:
    a) Write a letter to your local editor (no you don’t have to be a good writer, just quote facts and that’s all you need)
    b) Ask your school newsletter editor to start a Green Corner in their newsletter. Contribute your ideas here too
    c) College students are the best for waking up the sleeping giant. Because not only do college students talk to each other, but they also talk to their parents who will believe in and listen to their kids where others might fail to “get through”. Two birds with one stone, two generations aware of all the easily-done solutions! Bingo! You’ve got change.

  2. Chiquita Incognita

    PS I meant to say that writing to college *newspaper editors* is probably the best and fastest way to spread word.
    Good luck! 🙂

  3. Gary Bowman

    Thanks, TerraPass and readers, for ‘spreading the word.’ When I became aware of ‘the Island’ several years ago, I wrote and recorded ‘Plastic Island’ (‘Gary Bowman’s Song of the Oceans’). It quickly became a favorite of family and friends…and, personally, it was very important to get the word out! With that said, I am grappling with ‘next steps’, i.e. addressing the root cause: the increasing demands of consumer society. As Chiquita noted, we can make a difference through our individual actions. I have no doubt that the concerted effort to address consumer waste, on both land and sea, will require the best intentions, the greatest minds, and the highest level of commitment to stewardship concepts, while incorporating the technological advances of the 21st century.
    Plastic Island

  4. Charlyn Quilindrino

    Some people might not agree with what I have to say in general… that’s fine but what I can say for sure is that everywhere I go people start flaming about anything. We’re definitely in anger management need…Are we changing that fast ? I do recall things were a bit different just one decade ago. Or maybe when I was a kid stuff used to be more fun and I had no worries whatsoever.I think people need to find out more about marirea sanilor