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Ocean Plastic Problem: 5 Ways You Can Help Stop It

Illustration of a crying whale swimming in an Ocean full of plastic

Last month, a 1,110-pound whale washed up on a beach in the Philippines with 88 pounds of plastic inside its body. A few weeks later, a pregnant sperm whale was found dead off the coast of Sardinia, Italy, with nearly 50 pounds of plastic crowding two-thirds of its stomach.

These tragic events highlight the mounting issue of unchecked plastic garbage polluting our oceans and its effects on wildlife, our environment, and the climate.

So what can we do to stop the billions of pounds of plastics being dumped in oceans each year? Here’s some background and five ways you can take action.

How does plastic get into the ocean in the first place?

Twenty percent of ocean plastic comes from ships and offshore platforms. The rest is a mix of garbage dumping – nearly 8 million metric tons of plastics are dumped into the ocean every year – and litter blown into the sea.

Because plastic isn’t biodegradable, it instead breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics that fish can eat.

Plastic pollution in our oceans is so vast that, at the current rates, plastic will outweigh fish by 2050. Here’s a good explainer from Vox.

5 Ways You Can Help Stop the Ocean Plastic Problem

Here are five things you can do to help slow the ocean plastic pollution problem:

Contact your elected officials

Urge your elected officials at the local, state, and federal level to support a ban or tax on disposable, single-use plastic. You can find your elected officials here.

Put public pressure on corporations

List of top 10 brands contributing to Ocean Plastics

Consumer pressure on corporate polluters and brands that encourage disposable plastic works. CREDO members, along with our allies, successfully pressured Starbucks to create a 100% recyclable cup. Take action, like signing petitions, making calls and using social media to pressure corporations to stop the plastic pollution problem.

Make the climate connection

Plastic is derived from chemicals in fossil fuels which makes it a source of climate emissions and pollution. And the fossil fuel industry depends on plastic production for a chunk of its climate-destroying revenue. In fact, the fossil fuel industry is set to triple plastic exports by 2030. The more we understand where plastics come from – and why they are so cheap and readily available – the better we can fight back.

Attend town halls and debates

With the 2020 election season heating up, you can attend town halls and debates to ask local candidates – maybe even presidential nominees – to release their plan for cleaning up the ocean plastic problem and tackling the climate crisis. In fact, you can sign our petition urging the Democratic National Committee to hold a Democratic 2020 presidential primary debate focused on climate action here.

Stop using single-use plastics

While much of the ocean plastic problem must be solved by governments and corporations making drastic changes to policies and regulations and how business is conducted, we can all do our part by changing our behavior and reducing our use of plastic water bottles, straws, bags, and other single-use plastics. Here are nine ways to cut down your use of plastics.

56 Comments on “Ocean Plastic Problem: 5 Ways You Can Help Stop It

  1. Your top ten list is end users of plastic products. We need to go after the manufacturers of the product itself. Just like big tobacco or oxycontin we need to sue the people who make the product

    • Plastics are suffocating our planet! Your company made this happen, your company needs to fix it!

    • Absolutely true. If manufacturers switched to biodegradable packaging (etc) materials, we could reduce the pollution horror in a few years. Identify the problem at the source and we can accomplish what we need to.

    • Dish washing liquid, laundry detergent, peanut butter, yogurt, milk, mayonnaise, just about everything packaged, toothpaste, shampoo, and too much more to mention. Cutting out straws and plastic bags is a drop in the bucket. Cutting out or accommodating my life to use other products that don’t come in plastic is not possible. Work, kids, special needs kids, it’s hard enough. So I throw all plastics in the garbage now hoping we’re better off with them in the ground than sent on a barge through the ocean to countries that will do who knows what with them. Seems so silly to burn the fuel to freight them to other countries who will then throw a lot out, who knows where, and then use power and chemicals to recycle what they want/can.
      We need biodegradable plastic or none at all.

  2. I try to use my Own bags vs plastic bags to reduce the plastic I use . Also I have a water Bottle for myself and 2 kids so we don’t use single use bottles often and if we do we put them in Recycling .

    • I use my own reusable bags most of the time and now I boycotting publix as i found out not only do they use Plastic bags they also pushed legation in Florida to prevent any city or county in Florida from banning plastic bags. as far as plastic water bottle i never buy them but when I wind up with one i simply refill it with house R/O water

    • Nice! I use a regular water bottle also, and cloth bags for groceries (most of the time — sometimes I don’t have them when I do more shopping than planned!) A friend has made produce bags out of old sheets — good idea!

      • This is a great idea! Our stores have people bring their own reusable bags for when you go thru the checkout line, but an awful lot of plastic still gets used in the produce section.

  3. For most of us this would be a drastic change. BUT
    C H A N G E W E M U S T. Small changes over time might be the key.

  4. More states need to do what New York just did and ban single use plastic bags. Contact your local representative to start the process.

  5. If individuals themselves take the initiative and commit to recycle, reuse and refuse to use plastic it can start a trend. Don’t wait for large corporations to act, affect their sales and profits, and they will change their use too.

    • We have to do all of these suggestions! Our family buys little plastics but we can do more!

  6. Why aren’t we getting manufacturers to produce packaging made of vegetable matter? The technology exists. On a recent trip to three Italian cities I saw only packaging made of recyclable, vegetable matter from baggies in the grocery store to large garbage bags in the apartments where we stayed. These totally biodegradable products can also be used to wrap prepackaged foods. They may not be as crystal clear to what American consumers are accustomed to, but we are adaptable. Your suggestions are good, but we need to replace petroleum-based plastics totally.

    • Replacing petroleum based with biodegradable is the answer.

  7. Plastic is a great product but impossible to get rid of. It is shocking to realize that every piece of plastic ever made is still with us. We need to put the ingenuity that discovered plastic into discovering a serviceable compostable alternative. Who knows – it might be even better than what we have now.

    • We need serviceable compostable alternative!! Why wasn’t this done years ago?!

  8. Plastics are a curse on our ecosystem. We need to be aware of the poison it presents. And to carefully manage it in our surroundings.

  9. I haven’t purchased single use bottles in over 20 years and bought coffee-to-go at airports 4 times in those years during winter travel.

    2 comments/suggestions:

    1) I believe single use plastics should come with a price tag that includes disposal/environmental costs, much like changing the oil for a vehicle! No brainer! These costs would be shared by producer and consumer. So instead of bottled water costing $0.20 each bottle, it would be more like $5, the true cost of environmental damage and cleanup.

    2) Wake up people. Reconsider should be the first, instead of recycle, reduce, reuse!

    • Nice idea! I also think we could invest in more advertising to illustrate that bottled water is no better than tap water (in most places, not Flint, MI I guess!)

    • Karen that’s an economically FANTASTIC idea!!!…..I read about that as well!…,not only is that safer for our ocean and wildlife but is also a sound constructive way to create more jobs and help our economy!!…why is America always the last one on the innovative train!!!

  10. Discarded plastics eventually go into landfills and oceans where they persist: breaking down into smaller particles which can cause enormous harm and death to wildlife. If you feel secure thinking you do not imbibe plastic, think of the health hazard of plastic micro-particles now found in drinking water world wide. Wake up! The oceans are not your trash disposal system.

    • One problem is that our great leader, Trump, does not condone recycling… In fact, recycling has suffered under his administration. The Chinese are buying less of our recycled materials, apparently, and partly due to the fact that there is too much garbage also found in it. If our president believed in recycling/global warming and emphasized it, things could change…

  11. A little convenience is a high price to pay for costly environmental damage.

  12. The dam cruise ships dump their garbage in the ocean!! Stop that!!! Stop the cruise ships!!!

    • Good idea!! I didn’t know that! This is another example to me of where a better president who believed in recycling and global warming could help so much, especially since I’m sure he loves those cruises!

  13. Make it more expensive to buy plastic products and make refund more worthy so people feel them valuable to save.

  14. Please I am willing to help are there groups that go around the beaches and waterways picking up plastic? I am in Manhatten I go to Brighton Long Beach etc ps I would be happy to start one with help

  15. The plastic problem is not going to be solved by people recycling or avoiding plastic. Every loaf of bread I buy comes in a plastic bag. I re-use them, but they add up. We need to approach this as an engineering problem. We need to develop a new plastic that’s sturdy enough to use as a bread bag and also easily and economically degradable into something non-toxic. A tall order, but if we put our research funds into it, we could do it.

  16. Think of how your actions or lack thereof will have an impact on the earth and the oceans.
    bring your own bags to the stores when you shop. Say no to straws when you go to the restaurants. When making grocery purchase think how are you going to recycle the packaging or container it comes in. Support groups such as They are cleaning the oceans 1 pound at a time. They sell among other things bracelets that represent 1 pound of trash they take out of the oceans in order to support the group and their global efforts. Please check them out they are part of the solution . As always Reduce Reuse and Recycle.

  17. Something not mentioned here is that 70% of ocean plastic comes from China and Southeast Asia. Here in the U.S. we at least bring our plastics to a landfill. Although it’s not a great solution, at least we keep it out of the ocean for the most part. The companies that make single use plastics need to switch to the corn/glycerin based containers. They are compostable and biodegradable. The solutions are there it’s just a matter of getting manufacturers to comply. They will pass the cost on to consumers which will in turn get people to consume less. Free market approach is the best way to go about solving this huge problem.

  18. gradually get into the new habit of seeking out alternative based products, kids toys, garden tools, kitchenware and on and on.

  19. I also believe in recycling, & we are currently not using plastic straws @all.

  20. Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2018 had a great recycling program for which I volunteered. In each recycling station was a 3-ring binder with many pages explaining the different types of plastic and what’s in them (known carcinogens like BPA, phthlates, and other endocrine disruptors), how the gelato cups & tops were made of compostable cornstarch, and that area farmer’s had contracted to accept the well-sorted waste to spread on their fields for decomposition. Since then, I’ve insisted that other groups I volunteer for make changes to their organizing committees – perhaps requiring all members to pass a quiz on ‘how to recycle,’ and ban any snack item packaged in that ‘worst-of-the-worst’ aluminum-bonded-to-plastic wrapper that is so popular.

  21. Is it possible to recycle single-use plastic straws? I rinse mine out and put them in the recycle bin, as I do with plastic silverware, and mostly everything. I recycle their paper wrappers, too. Are they recyclable tho? Anyone know? Cuz if they are we could be encouraging people to toss their single-use straws in the recycle bins, at the very least.

  22. Btw, I think this is a GREAT article with tons of reliable sources of information for the greater good! Thanks for sharing it, CREDO!

  23. In Iowa we have bottle law for cans and soda bottles. Unfortunately, juice containers and water bottles are not covered so these items are more frequently discarded, often along trails and roadways.
    Drink water from the tap in a reusable glass. Bottled water is over-rated and mostly an unnecessary expense.

  24. Well, maybe we should expand our thinking about plastic use to hard, moulded plastics, like plastic furniture, kids’ toys, waste baskets, laundry baskets, storage containers both for food and household stuff— go through your house/apartment scanning for all the plastic in it! That even includes fabrics in your clothes. As I recall, the main natural fibers are cotton, linen, wool and silk, and rayon which is made from natural fibers. I think nylon, acetate, polyester, olefin, etc, are all basically plastic. So look at your upholstery and your rugs. This problem goes on and on….

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