Where does all the trash in the ocean come from anyway? Is it just careless boaters and lazy beach goers who are to blame? Hardly. The oceans are the collective end points for every river, for every stream, and for every creek all over the world. The creatures in the oceans live permanently downstream of the entire earth’s human population. Ever see a plastic bottle in the street? Each piece of litter that you come across has the potential to end up in the ocean.
How? It gets pushed there by water, water making its way downstream. Rain and wind can easily move light weight bottle along pushing them into creeks and streams or sewers. Small creeks soon turn into rivers with mouths too big to monitor. But the trash that falls down the sewer grates, like that plastic bottle that got squashed like a bug when a car ran over it and then slipped unnoticed between the iron rungs of a curbside sewer, surely that stuff doesn’t end up in the ocean does it? No of course not, we have treatment plants that filter out all the garbage from the water before it goes any further. So there’s no problem there – unless it happens to be raining, I mean raining really hard. See whenever there’s a downpour (and it seems like we get more and more of those lately!) the sewer system just can’t handle all that water at once, so the flood gates open up and all that water and all that trash rush out into the ocean.
How much plastic and trash are we talking about? During a heavy rainfall in Boston researchers filmed the water flowing out of a sewer gate at the mouth of the Charles River. They watched 15 minutes of their video and counted the number of plastic bottles that went over the gate. On average a new bottle popped up every 3 seconds! In Baltimore’s inner harbor they actually built an old fashioned waterwheel to scoop up the trash during a downpour. In just over an hour they had enough trash to fill a dumpster halfway. The ugly truth is that street trash, even trash that is miles and miles away from the sea, has the potential of becoming ocean trash. Like it or not, we all live upstream of some creatures home.