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Addressing Plastic Pollution | Tips to Clean Up Our Oceans

A public opinion report prepared for the WWF found that 72% of Americans were very frustrated by the fact that plastics from the US are ending up in the oceans.
From discarded bottles to microplastics, various types of plastics can still be seen around our waters despite the urge for more clean ups and sustainable behavior related to recycling. Plastic pollution impacts sea turtleswhalesseabirdsfishcoral reefs, and other marine species and habitats. We’ve all seen the images of marine life being entangled with plastics. In fact, scientists estimate that more than half of the world’s sea turtles and nearly every seabird on Earth have eaten plastic in their lifetimes.
Unfortunately, plastics enter the oceans very easily and there is no one perpetrator to the plastic pollution problem.
Common Causes for Plastic Pollution
Plastics reach the ocean from littering (either intentional or unintentional with wind or rain sweeping trash into the ocean), leakage from landfill sites, and improper disposal of products. Wildly enough, 70% to 80% of plastic that is transported from land to the sea is via large and small rivers or coastlines.1 The other 20% to 30% comes from marine sources such as fishing nets, lines, ropes, and abandoned vessels.2
As expected, plastic pollution is prevalent where the local waste management practices are poor. The more plastic we have out in the open or left unrecycled, the easier it is for particles to make their way from land to sea.
Mis-managed waste in cities close to rivers or systems of water create some of the biggest issues. This means that improving waste management is essential if we’re to truly tackle the topic of plastic pollution in our oceans.
What do we do?

The Recycling Partnership (TRP) noted that a lack of access to recycling services and not enough education and communication are reasons why recyclable material ends up where they don’t belong. If the infrastructure and communication is available, then one of the ways to reduce plastic pollution is through proper recycling. Improvements in recycling infrastructure can be expected thanks to the passage of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation for packaging EPR legislation places the responsibility for the end of life of packages onto the producers.

A few other immediate actions we encourage you to take are:

  • Buying and using metal straws & utensils vs. single-use plastic ones
  • Carry reusable water bottles to reduce the amount of single use water bottles you consume
  • Participate in local clean-ups
  • Track your trash & recycling
  • Avoid products with microbeads
  • Use reusable shopping bags
  • Support Legislation
  • Talk to friends and family about sustainability

We can all be a part of spreading the word on how to recycle and address the education and communication component. Together, let us make a difference in eliminating ocean-bound plastic.

1. Li, W. C., Tse, H. F., & Fok, L. (2016). Plastic waste in the marine environment: A review of sources, occurrence and effects. Science of the Total Environment, 566, 333-349.
Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F., Sainte-Rose, B., Aitken, J., Marthouse, R., … & Noble, K. (2018). Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 4666.
2. In certain locations, the share that comes from marine sources can be higher. For example, it’s estimated that plastic lines, ropes and fishing nets make up 52% of the plastic mass in the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ (GPGP).

Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F., Sainte-Rose, B., Aitken, J., Marthouse, R., … & Noble, K. (2018). Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plasticScientific Reports, 8(1), 4666.

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