How Plastic From Across the World Unites in Our Connected Oceans

RIO CEO Kiernan Kelly has coined the phrase "We only have one ocean" as a way to summarize not only how precious our great blue expanse is but also how it connects all of us, no matter how far apart we are.


Our ocean wraps around the entire planet, and the currents that run through it carry fish, plants, and of course, plastic from one part of the ocean to another. When plastic waste is improperly disposed of in one country, it affects us all through our connected waterways.


To better understand how our one ocean connects us all and the impact that plastic waste has on this fantastic, connected system, let's look at how one piece of plastic waste can travel from a local garbage dump to the most prominent plastic waste patch in our ocean.




Our first connection with our oceans comes from the sky. Rainfall is essential to life on the planet and is something we hope we can always count on. However, in the case of the open dumping of plastics, it can be a nightmare. When heavy rains wash over an open landfill, they can pick up pieces of lighter plastic and wash them away from the dump and into local waterways. That's where the journey of our plastic begins. Heavy rainfall washes over the piles of waste at an open-dumping landfill, and a discarded water bottle comes loose. It is quickly swept into a nearby river, where the rainfall has created a fast-moving current.


Local Waterways


Local waterways like rivers create the veins of an incredible circulatory system of water that moves across the planet. These veins carry water in and out of the oceans, but they are also efficient carriers of trash and other pollution if polluted. Once plastic enters these waterways, it's a short trip straight into the nearest ocean if it isn't stopped.


Ocean Currents


The best way to visualize our ocean is like one extensive circulatory system for our planet. Water flows through our oceans and trickles into our smaller and smaller waterways thanks to ocean currents. These currents cross the earth and constantly move water from one area of the ocean to another. They are the arteries of the system.


This is why global responsibility for plastic is so important. Plastic that ends up in the oceans doesn’t just stay in the area it’s deposited. It is quickly picked up by currents and whisked out to sea, sometimes ending up hundreds or thousands of miles from where it was abandoned. That little plastic water bottle will eventually find its way to one of these after days, weeks, or months of floating out in the open ocean and will now begin an international journey to the heart of the system.


Sea Gyres


There are currently five significant ocean gyres that swirl in our ocean, collecting and trapping anything that gets swept into their currents. Gyres are like slow-moving whirlpools, and they are part of the system that circulates ocean water across the globe. If our oceans are one large circulatory system for our planet, ocean gyres are the pumping hearts that keep the water moving across the planet.


However, caught up right in the beating hearts of our oceans are now thousands of tons of garbage, most of it plastic. The five gyres in our oceans have been transformed into five massive garbage patches, the largest of which is the Great Pacific Garbage patch. This patch is 1.6 million square kilometers, twice the size of Texas, and contains at least 80,000 tons of floating plastic waste. 


These are international continents of trash. Currents sweep debris from countries across the globe to assemble here in these massive, international collections of garbage. That water bottle that started at a local garbage dump has now joined bottles, bags, and other trash from dozens of other nations. It will now float nearly endlessly in this massive mass of waste, slowly breaking down into microplastics that may end up in the belly of a fish that could become someone's next meal in a country thousands of miles from where it started.


This one ocean connects us all, and it's currently collecting trash from nearly every nation on Earth, making it our shared responsibility to fight against plastic pollution and the onslaught of single-use plastics.


You can personally help by purchasing products from companies dedicated to producing plastic-free, sustainable products that don’t contribute to plastic pollution. RIO not only helps you stock up on sustainable goods but is also committed to using the proceeds to rid our oceans of plastic once and for all and preserve our one ocean for generations to come.