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What is a Gyre and How Does it Work | Zerowasteman explains

Written by: Hendrik

Category: News

Updated on:


In this article, we talk about the 5 gyres in the world-oceans. What are they? How did they start and what we can do to stop contributing to them?

What is an ocean gyre?

Let’s look at the definition of a gyre:

A gyre is a large circulating ocean current that is moved by strong winds and the rotation of the earth.

Fun fact: The term gyre can be used to refer to any type of vortex, even one that is man-made, but most commonly in oceanography.

There are five major gyres around the world.

  • the North Atlantic Gyre
  • the South Atlantic Gyre
  • the North Pacific Gyre
  • the Southern Pacific Gyre
  • the Indian Ocean Gyre

The most famous one is called the great pacific garbage patch. The name might actually be a bit misleading since it isn’t a patch as such. Don’t think of it as a floating island, think more of it as a plastic soup that you can not see from a plane or a satellite. Most of the plastic in the oceans actually sinks to the ground. Only a small percentage is still floating at the top.

It is estimated that roughly 70% of plastic sinks to the ocean floor, causing further problems. Plastic is porous and therefore allows for a significant area of bacteria to latch on and grow. This makes even lighter plastics that usually float sink to the ocean floor.

Once at the floor, the bacteria can often die off due to lack of oxygen, and light and the plastic will start to rise to the top again. This process keeps repeating itself endlessly.

Plastics are full of chemicals and toxins, which causes the oceans to become more acidic and the bleaching of our coral reefs. The famous great barrier reef is declared “almost” dead.

How does waste end up in the oceans in the first place?

Since the age of time, people have created waste. This was food waste and also feces that ended up in sewage systems, which would lead directly to the ocean. The difference between then and now is that most of the waste back then was organic and would biodegrade over time. Sure it smelled a hell of a lot more those days, and people had to deal with more hygienic problems than we do now. But this was in the middle age, and things have changed a little bit.

Related: Biodegradable VS Compostable

Today we create more waste that doesn’t biodegrade, which has become a big issue. Sure we have treatment plants to our drinking water and filter systems in place to pick up rubbish. But they cause a serious of other problems. To name female hormones in our drinking water, from the use of contraception, aka the pill.

Yet still, an equivalent of a truckload of garbage ends up in the ocean every minute.

  • This can be due to lousy waste management
  • wind and rivers
  • illegal dumping
  • no infrastructure for garbage
  • microbeads found in cosmetics ( yep that is sadly still a thing)

Find out if your cosmetics still contain microbeads by downloading this free app

According to new research from the team at the ocean cleanup project, worldwide 1000 rivers are responsible for 80% of the pollution of the oceans. This is were the ocean cleanup team has started to intercept with their so-called “interceptor” to stop the rubbish from entering the oceans in the first place.

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The majority of these rivers are in third world countries, which is only because the first world countries shipped their waste over there but more to that in a minute.

The ocean cleanup project plans to have an interceptor in all of those 1000 rivers by 2025.

How does a gyre work?

The ocean has streams and currents that control not only the ocean’s temperature, but even on land, we can feel it. A very famous stream is the gulf stream that keeps Europe at a pleasant temperature threw out the year. I noticed it, especially since I am currently in Canada, and we are at the same altitude as my home town, yet it is a lot colder here.

So imagine a big whirlpool in the ocean that is filled with plastic particles from the size of a 0.00005mm = nanoparticle, to anything that floats.

This can be a car tire or a beer crate. In fact, the ocean clean up team found milk crates from the ’70s entirely intact bobbing around in the gyre.

Where does our rubbish go?

It has been estimated that our waste can travel all around the world. On beaches in India, people found trash from England.

We can’t just point the finger at one country here because we are all guilty of this. Especially the first world countries which are the leading producers of plastic. Yet we used to send our trash to china and had them deal with it.

Since China has stopped accepting our waste in 2017, the U.S. and other countries fell into a crisis. First, it was Malaysia became the biggest importer of trash, allowing our plastic waste from Europe, Japan, and of course, the U.S. Other third world countries like Vietnam and Thailand started accepting plastic waste until it doubled a year later. They don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the vast amounts of waste they were suddenly receiving. So a lot of it has found its way into the rivers and oceans or was send to illegal recycling facilities where the trash was burned, releasing chemicals that can cause respiratory ailments and can even be carcinogenic.

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What can we do to stop contributing to the growth of the 5 gyres?

There are quite a few steps that we can all take to stop creating more waste. Here are some ideas for you to try. The more responsible we consume, the less waste we create.

  • I think the first and far most important step we can take is consuming less plastic materials.
  • reduce
  • reuse
  • recycle
  • The 5 R’s
  • buy second-hand clothes
  • wash your synthetic clothes in a guppyfriend
  • make sure you don’t put plastic on your face (cosmetics) use this app to help you find out if your cosmetics use microbeads?
  • Install a filter behind your washing machine
  • organize a beach clean up
  • join an organization to tackle ocean pollution
  • buy less plastic
  • see if you can reuse more items
  • make sure you know what can actually be recycled from your local council
  • do a waste audit
  • use TerraCycle to recycle materials that don’t get picked up by the council
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Reducing the amount of plastic we use in our day to day life, in my opinion, is a crucial step. Storing our food in glass or metal is a much healthier option. And I am excited to see that more and more people and companies are jumping on board.

Look at it this way. Plastic is not a natural product, yet we are surrounded by it everywhere we look. Indeed, it is very versatile and helps our life to be more comfortable, but at what price?

We are problem-solving machines, and projects like the ocean clean up are working on solutions to stop plastic pollution. Since we are in the biggest crisis of plastic pollution, we all need to reunite and tackle

Which of the following statements is true for ocean gyres? Gyres rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere? Let me know in the comments below. Peace!

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Hendrik Kaiser

I've studied biology and lived for 3 years on an off-grid permaculture farm. I love kitesurfing and keeping my body healthy and fit. Hence, I care so much about keeping our environment clean and being as zero waste as possible. Being a zerowasteman is a superpower everyone has inside of themselves, and I want to teach you how you can unleash it.

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