Plastic Pollution in our Oceans
How it affects you and your family
We're treating the oceans like a trash bin – and plastic accounts for 60-80% of marine litter. So much plastic is flowing into the sea that marine animals are dying, our beaches are polluted, and our health may even be at risk.
Most of the plastic that invades our oceans isn't biodegradable. This means that once it arrives, the majority of plastic pollution will affect the marine ecosystem for decades or even centuries. And it has a devastating effect. Larger debris can wash up on our shores, entangle and kill seals, or destroy coral reefs. Other refuse gets broken up into smaller pieces that fish often mistake for food. As garbage continues to pour into our oceans, our waters are becoming an ever-increasing reservoir of plastics.
What it Means to You
Plastic pollution affects every waterway, sea and ocean in the world. When we damage our water systems, we're putting our own well-being at risk.
Floating plastic particles look like food to many marine species – including the fish that we eat. Compounds found in some plastics have been linked to cancer and hormone disruption. Back on the shore, the garbage that washes up on our beaches is much more than an eyesore: it can be dangerous to animals and children, and cost millions of dollars in cleanup costs and loss of tourism.
The most effective way to stop plastic pollution in our oceans is to make sure it never reaches the water in the first place. By using better waste management practices, individuals, companies, and governments can all make a big impact. From Rwanda to the EU, many countries have already put solutions in action, significantly reducing the amount of plastic waste polluting the sea.
NRDC is working on three key strategies to curb plastic water pollution in the U.S. and beyond:
1. Holding plastic producers accountable. Many states hold producers of materials like paint and carpet responsible for recovering and recycling their product after it is used. Producers of plastic packaging should be required to find innovative ways to design better packaging that can be more fully recovered for recycling or reuse. We are laying the groundwork to get this practice underway in California and Rhode Island.
2. Leading international action. NRDC's oceans and waste management experts are working directly with international leaders and organizations such as the UN Environment Program to help establish international guidelines for curbing plastic pollution. We're also bringing government agencies and organizations together at the international level to showcase solutions and secure wide-spread support.
3. Reducing plastic pollution. NRDC helps control the amount of litter in our oceans by pushing for legislation that will reduce plastic pollution. We offer strategic guidance to partner organizations and support policies at the state and municipal level in California that help to address pollution from plastic bags and foam to-go containers.
What You Can Do
Marine plastic pollution shows us that we cannot really throw anything "away." Reducing, reusing, and recycling is the best way to stem the tide of plastics into our oceans. Here are some specific steps you can take to cut down on your use and protect our oceans.
1. Cut disposable plastics out of your routine. Simple alternatives include bringing your own bag to the store, choosing reusable items wherever possible, and purchasing plastic with recycled content.
2. Recycle. When you need to use plastic, be sure that it is properly effective, after you've reused it. Each piece of plastic recycled is one less piece of waste that could end up in our oceans.
3. Take Responsibility. Whether you represent yourself, a business, or a government, know how much you are contributing to the problem of plastic pollution.
- Conduct a waste audit and share the information.
- Set specific goals to reduce or eliminate your plastic waste generation.
4. Clean up your beach. Many organizations host clean-up days where you can volunteer to pick up trash at your local beach. A few hours of your time can make a big difference.
5. Support NRDC's work. Because marine debris primarily originates on land, NRDC's ongoing work on waste prevention and recycling plays a critical role in resolving this issue. With your support, NRDC can continue urgent work to reduce plastic waste from reaching our oceans. Click here to donate. >>
last revised 3/27/2012
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Oceans on Switchboard
NRDC experts write about the growing risks to the health of our oceans on the NRDC blog.
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