Do you recycle at home? If you don’t, you may want to reconsider after reading through today’s Wonder of the Day.

Have you ever stopped to WONDER where all that trash goes that you throw away? Sure, a garbage truck probably stops by your house once a week or so to haul away your garbage. But where does it go from there?

Your local garbage truck probably takes your trash to a nearby landfill. This is a place where trash is buried. Over time, much of it will decompose. Some items, though, such as plastic and styrofoam, can take many years to degrade and break down.

Your local landfill may be a huge pile of trash, but would you believe that the world’s largest pile of trash isn’t a landfill at all? It’s true! It’s actually in the ocean.

The central North Pacific Ocean is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is also sometimes called the Pacific Trash Vortex. This area of the ocean is characterized by swirling currents known as the North Pacific Gyre. These currents collect trash and direct it toward their calm center, where it collects and stays there.

The exact size of the Pacific Trash Vortex is hard to estimate. Estimates range from twice the size of Texas to twice the size of the entire continental United States. Whatever estimate is closest, the Pacific Trash Vortex is huge!

The area is marked by high concentrations of plastics, chemical sludge and other debris. Much of the litter consists of tiny pieces of degraded plastic that float at or just below the surface. Because of this, the trash pile isn’t easily seen from airplanes or satellites.

The North Pacific Ocean isn’t the only place in the world’s oceans where you’ll find similar collections of trash. Any place with similar swirling currents can collect trash in the same way. For example, a large pile of floating plastic debris can also be found in the Atlantic Ocean.

Although much of the trash in the Pacific Trash Vortex is invisible to the naked eye, scientists estimate that there may be six times as much plastic as there is natural plankton in the area. These tiny bits of plastic end up in the stomachs of fish and other marine birds and animals, causing disruption in the natural habitats of the creatures affected.

46 Join the Discussion

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  1. Hi Wonderopolis!! I was surprised after I read this. Twice the size of USA, or even twice the size of Texas is humongous! Yes, I did wonder about where the garbage truck takes the trash, but I didn’t pay much attention to find the answer! Thanks for your website… its WONDERFUL! I love to wonder about things, and I am really curious sometimes, so Wonderopolis is just right for me!

    Thanks!

    • Thanks for sharing your WONDERful comment, Sarah! We are so very glad that you have been WONDERing with us while we learn together! :)

    • YIKES, we certainly agree with you, Lauren! That’s a whole lot of garbage! We hope we can all get together to clean up some of that trash! :)

    • That’s great that you recycle, Grace R! It’s an important part of keeping our world clean! We are glad you learned something new today at Wonderopolis! Hopefully we can all get together to keep our Earth clean! :)

    • WOW, we bet that was a very smelly trip, Jaylen! We’re glad you got to see the dump up close! We hope that we can help the Earth with recycling! :)

    • Hi there, Trustin! That’s a great point you made– we all need to do our part and recycle and reduce the amount of waste. We want to live in a healthy, clean world! :)

  2. I recycle all the time at my house we recycle cans and at my school we recycle everything we can sometimes we even win contests! I knew it went to a landfill. I knew oceans had some trash but not that much!!!!

    I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about why are lemons so sour.

    • That’s great news, Wondergirl101! We think recycling is a great way to reduce waste and help our world become a cleaner place! Thanks for sharing your super guess for tomorrow’s Wonder! :)

  3. Hi wonderoplis, I once had a project I tried to do pollution I researched it but then I did not do it because it was something I could I do.

    • We Wonder what you ended researching for your project, Minecrafter? We are glad you shared your comment with us– and that you’re doing your best at preventing pollution! :)

  4. Hi Peoples,
    We are 5/6L from Sydney Australia. We are very upset to read about what is happening to our oceans. We care about animals and we understand the consequences for the food chain, We are all going to make a difference to our world. We are going to make sure we recycle at home and at school. We are going to try and be aware of the types of plastics we buy.
    Please everyone, care for our environment.
    Thanks for reading

    • Great point from our Wonder Friends in 5/6L! We are excited to hear that you are all doing a great job of reducing waste and recycling more! WOHOO! We love our world! :)

  5. Wow, that is terrible. My family has tried to reduce the amount of garbage we have but it has been really hard. But we will keep trying.

    • Hi there, Isaac! We think that your family is doing a great job of trying to reduce the amount of waste you throw out! Keep up the SUPER work! :)

  6. This was a cool one and my teacher gives this to us for homework every weekend and Friday.

    I think this is the best one since I started 6th grade.

    • WOHOO, thanks for sharing your comment, Naya! We’re glad that you and your classmates are WONDERing with us this weekend! :)

  7. There are also strange people who take their trash to the dump instead of outside in the trash can on 1st and 7th day of the week. I wonder what they have in there that the have to take to the dump.

    (This is nacia from TYWLS by the way and I would like to give a shout out to my 2 friends that posted with me that are in my school.)

    • Hi there, Nay! Some people prefer to go to the dump, while other residents live in cities that have a service to collect trash. Thanks for stopping by to say hello to us and your Wonder Friends from school, Nay! :)

  8. Wow that is a lot of trash I WONDER where it is don’t you wonder the same thing!!!!

    How is there so much recycling in one place!?

  9. Wow! I have watched a video before that is about recycling trash and the kids in the video can’t eat, drink, or get clean! If you want to check the video out it is called trash is cash!

    • Thanks for sharing another awesome tip with us, Gabrianna! We love when our Wonder Friends share great information with one another! HOORAY! :)

  10. It is horrible how much garbage there is in the ocean. Fish will die if they have to eat all the trash. Plus if we eat the fish, then we are also eating the trash that the fish have eaten. Plankton, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, all the creatures that live in the ocean are being affected. Even animals that drink the water can be taking in that plastic. The trash affects the food chain. We are wondering why can’t they just burn the trash? We are also wondering if we can just launch it into Outer Space? Or would it be better if we could recycle it? Please let us know.

    • You make some truly great points, Wonder Friend! Thanks so very much for sharing your opinion with the Wonderopolis community! We all need to take part in the effort to keep our Earth clean and safe! Recycling is a great place to start, but we don’t think that launching our trash into space would be the best idea… we need to be responsible for our waste! :)

  11. Yuck, but at least I know now, you guys are the best I love you guys. You guys rock, you guys are awesome.

    Love always, Lara

  12. Hi wonderopolis!
    I think they should put stop putting garbage in the North Pacific Gyre I bet it is killing fish and marine animals. Can you post a wonder about vortexes? That would be cool. It’s sad that they just drop garbage in the ocean. I learned that there is a Pacific Gyre.

    Jackson

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend Jackson! We’re glad you WONDERed about all the trash that goes into the ocean. We don’t want to hurt the sea life who call the ocean home! We hope you’ll do your part in protecting our awesome Earth! Thanks for sharing all the great information you learned! :)

  13. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I really liked the article about trash! I have never see a land fill so I have always wondered where all the trash went. I wonder if any boats stop working because they go by the trash in the ocean and a piece of trash gets stuck in the engine? It is so amazing how all of that trash decomposes! Can’t wait to see your next wonder!

    From Sydney

    • Hi Sydney! You’ve got some great questions! We bet boats have to be very careful when the navigate through those waters, but we know that the fish living there are affected by the trash. We really enjoyed WONDERing about where our trash goes… perhaps we can come up with a better and safer place to leave our trash?! :)

  14. Hi Wonderopolis!
    This wonder was very interesting. One of the things I learned was that the largest pile of trash, or dump, is actually in the ocean not on land. Another thing I found out was that any swirling trash can direct trash to a calm center, which is actually kind of confusing! I was still wondering, how many piles of trash are in the Pacific Ocean? From background knowledge, I know that local garbage trucks take trash to a landfill, but I never knew that they buried the trash. I can take my new facts and I can share that with family and friends. I think that the next day’s Wonder will be about sour things such as lemons because sour thigs can make you pucker up!

    • Hey Fitz, we’re glad you’re here today! We are glad we learned where our trash ends up, perhaps we can think of a better solution than leaving it in the ocean. We’re very happy that you plan to share all your new facts with your family and friends– you’re a SUPER Wonder Friend, Fitz! :)

  15. It is sad that people are hurting the ocean because probably the animals can’t survive in that. We recycle at home not in our class so much. In our class we have a vermiculture – which is a worm composter. We put our leftovers from lunch in there and the worms eat it and turn it into soil. This Friday we will be picking up garbage in town. Too bad people dump garbage! We are also packing litter-less lunches this week. We wonder why people litter.

    • Wow, 3K Klass! These are all great ideas that we all can do to reduce waste! We really like the idea about the vermiculture! How, cool!! Thanks for sharing, Wonder Friends! Happy Earth Day! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Where is the world’s largest pile of trash?
  • What is the Pacific Trash Vortex?
  • How can you get started recycling?

Wonder Gallery

TrashVimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to do your part to help the environment? Cleaning up the world’s oceans can be as simple as starting to recycle at home. Here are a few steps you can take to get started recycling:

  • Find out what recycling options exist in your area. Ask friends and neighbors what you can recycle. Some waste management companies will pick up recyclable items. Sometimes, though, you may need to collect items to take to a recycling center.
  • Make a list of commonly-used items that can be recycled in your area. Post your list on your refrigerator at home, so that you’ll remember what can — and can’t — be recycled.
  • Ask your parents to help you buy or make some recycling bins to use at home. Recycling becomes a lot easier if you have special bins for collecting recyclable items.
  • Monitor your trash! It can take some time to get used to recycling. When you get started, keep an eye on what’s going into the trash bin. If you see something that can be recycled, pull it out and put it in the proper bin.

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Education’s Perils of Plastic activity, children learn about the world’s largest “landfill,” make a connection to their own lives, and calculate how much trash they generate in a week, a year, and ten years.

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