'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' has grown to twice the size of Texas, study finds

  • According to a scientific estimate, almost 80,000 metric tons of plastic has built up in an area often referred to as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch."
  • The massive pile of swirling trash, located between California and Hawaii, was found to have had the highest concentration of plastic ever recorded in one area.
  • Of the estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, microplastics — small plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters long — accounted for about 8 percent of the total trash afloat an area of 1.6 million square kilometers.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch located halfway between Hawaii and California, is the largest accumulation zone for ocean plastics on Earth.
The Ocean Cleanup
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch located halfway between Hawaii and California, is the largest accumulation zone for ocean plastics on Earth.

The world's largest collection of ocean trash is growing much faster than previously thought — and is now twice the size of Texas.

According to a scientific estimate, almost 80,000 metric tons of plastic has built up in an area often referred to as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." That figure is up to 16 times higher than previously reported, researchers said.

The massive pile of swirling trash, located between California and Hawaii, was found to have had the highest concentration of plastic ever recorded in one area.

'New light on the scope of the debris'

The study, carried out by an international team of scientists alongside The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, utilized two aircraft surveys and 30 vessels to cross the debris field. The three-year mapping effort showed plastic pollution in the world's oceans is "increasing exponentially" since measurements began in 1970.

"We were surprised by the amount of large plastic objects we encountered," Julia Reisser, chief scientist of the study, said in a statement. "We used to think most of the debris consists of small fragments, but this new analysis shines a new light on the scope of the debris."

The patch is not a solid mass of plastic. Nonetheless, it includes 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and its weight is thought to be the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets.

The results, published today in Scientific Reports, reveal that the GPGP, defined as the area with more than 10 kg of plastic per km2, measures 1.6 million square kilometers, three times the size of continental France.
Scientific Reports, The Ocean Cleanup
The results, published today in Scientific Reports, reveal that the GPGP, defined as the area with more than 10 kg of plastic per km2, measures 1.6 million square kilometers, three times the size of continental France.

Of the estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, microplastics — small plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters long — accounted for about 8 percent of the total trash afloat an area of 1.6 million square kilometers.

The study's use of boats and aerial surveys could help to explain why the latest estimates are much higher than in the past. Nonetheless, rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution in recent years is also likely to be a significant factor.

On Wednesday, the Foresight Future of the Sea Report forecast the amount of plastic in the world's oceans could be set to triple over the next decade unless litter is curbed.