Every day on Henderson Island - one of the most remote places on Earth - trash from every continent except Antarctica washes up its shores. Fishing nets and floats, water bottles, and plastics break into small particles against the rocks and sand.
Lavers said it's impossible to wipe Henderson clean. She hopes people are more mindful about their plastics use and disposal to keep more islands from the same fate.
Three and a half months later, Lavers' team counted 53,000 pieces of human-made debris. By their calculations, Henderson's 14 square miles contains more than 37 million pieces of trash.
They counted, weighed, and sorted the debris by type, color, and country of origin, in rare cases where this was possible. Most items were too small and broken to be examined.
The team selected five sites to sample debris from. They used measuring tapes to mark the perimeters of every site and mesh disks to sift through the sand at each location.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Lavers described storms that sent coconuts and trees whirling onto their tents. Sharp rocks sliced open their shoes, which they bound with rope.
She also learned that "one clearly should not [bring] coconut milk when coming to a tropical island," she said. While they had food to last, the conditions of island life were unpleasant.
"A few months into the 3.5-month expedition, our team of seven realized we had all really had just about enough of tinned chicken," Lavers said. They had two barrels left over.
They brought canned foods like corn and beans for sustenance.
Because there is no freshwater on Henderson, Lavers and her team spent two days ferrying water from the freight ship to the island. "I hurt in places I didn't even know existed," Lavers said.
The trash situation was far worse than she expected. Debris blanketed the beaches.
When she arrived, it felt "a bit like being the first to land on the moon," Lavers told Business Insider. It became immediately clear that something on Henderson was awry.
Few humans have set foot on the island, which lies halfway between New Zealand and South America, 71 miles away from the nearest settlement. To get there, Lavers joined a freight ship traveling from New Zealand and asked it to change course for Henderson.
Jennifer Lavers first saw Henderson Island in Google Street View. She's been documenting islands-turned-junkyards for years. Henderson was the epitome of the phenomenon.