Preventing Plastic Pollution

The equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic enters into our seas every minute, every day, all year long.

The flow of plastics into our environment has reached crisis proportions, and the evidence is most clearly on display in our oceans. It is estimated that up to 12 million metric tons of plastic enter our ocean each year.

Our oceans are slowly turning into a plastic soup, and the effects on ocean life are chilling. Discarded plastic fishing lines entangle turtles and seabirds, and plastic pieces of all sizes choke and clog the stomachs of creatures who mistake it for food, from tiny zooplankton to whales. Plastic is now entering every level of the ocean food chain and is even ending up in the seafood on our plates.

Our planet can no longer tolerate a culture of throw-away plastics. Single-use plastics are filling up our landfills, choking our rivers, and contaminating our oceans. For far too long, corporations have put the onus on all of us to deal with their own failed design problem. We have been told that the individual should simply recycle away the billions of tons of plastics corporations produce and that it will make the difference needed to sustain our planet.

We have been told a lie.

Over 90% of plastics are not recycled. Recycling alone is simply never going to solve this problem. The scale of the problem corporations have created must be met with a fundamental shift in how they bring products to people. It is up to all of us to demand better — to tell these corporate giants that we will no longer tolerate the plastics they force upon us. Our world deserves better, and we don’t need their products if they refuse to adapt.

It’s time for us to reject the old corporate story that a throw-away lifestyle makes us happy. Nothing that is used for a few minutes should end up polluting our oceans for a lifetime.

With enough pressure from our supporters and allies around the world, the biggest companies like Coke, Pepsi, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Unilever, Nestlé, and Procter & Gamble will embrace a better model through innovation and redesign. They will reject the old story, and rediscover how to produce and deliver goods in a way that respects our oceans and our planet.

Together, we can do better. We can bring about a simpler life without endless waste — a life where people and the planet flourish. Demand big corporations do their part to end plastic pollution!

So, what can you do about ocean plastic pollution?

Everyone can do something to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the ocean, and millions of people worldwide are already taking action to reduce their plastic use. Here are seven ways you can make a difference, starting today.

1. Reduce Your Use of Single-Use Plastics
Wherever you live, the easiest and most direct way that you can get started is by reducing your own use of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, and any other plastic items that are used once and then discarded.

The best way to do this is by a) refusing any single-use plastics that you do not need (e.g. straws, plastic bags, takeout utensils, takeout containers), and b) purchasing, and carrying with you, reusable versions of those products, including reusable grocery bags, produce bags, bottles, utensils, coffee cups, and dry cleaning garment bags. And when you refuse single-use plastic items, help businesses by letting them know that you would like them to offer alternatives.

2. Recycle Properly
This should go without saying, but when you use single-use (and other) plastics that can be recycled, always be sure to recycle them. At present, just 9% of plastic is recycled worldwide. Recycling helps keep plastics out of the ocean and reduces the amount of “new” plastic in circulation. If you need help finding a place to recycle plastic waste near you, check Earth911’s recycling directory. It’s also important to check with your local recycling center about the types of plastic they accept.

3. Participate In (or Organize) a Beach or River Cleanup
Help remove plastics from the ocean and prevent them from getting there in the first place by participating in, or organizing a cleanup of your local beach or waterway. This is one of the most direct and rewarding ways to fight ocean plastic pollution. You can simply go to the beach or waterway and collect plastic waste on your own or with friends or family, or you can join a local organization’s cleanup or an international event like the International Coastal Cleanup.

4. Support Bans
Many municipalities around the world have enacted bans on single use plastic bags, takeout containers, and bottles. You can support the adoption of such policies in your community. Here is a list of resources for legislative bodies considering limiting the use of plastic bags.

5. Avoid Products Containing Microbeads
Tiny plastic particles, called “microbeads,” have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems, and affect hundreds of marine species. Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for “polythelene” and “polypropylene” on the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products (find a list of products containing microbeads here).

6. Spread the Word
Stay informed on issues related to plastic pollution and help make others aware of the problem. Tell your friends and family about how they can be part of the solution, or host a viewing party for one of the many plastic pollution focused documentaries, like A Plastic Ocean, Garbage Island: An Ocean Full of Plastic, Bag It, Addicted to Plastic, Plasticized, or Garbage Island.

7. Support Organizations Addressing Plastic Pollution
There are many non-profit organizations working to reduce and eliminate ocean plastic pollution in a variety of different ways, including Oceanic Society, Plastic Pollution Coalition, 5 Gyres, Algalita, Plastic Soup Foundation, and others. These organizations rely on donations from people like you to continue their important work. Even small donations can make a big difference!

These seven ideas only scratch the surface for ways you can help address the growing problem of plastic pollution in the oceans. The important thing is that we all do something, no matter how small. For more ideas and resources, sign up to join our Blue Habits community of people worldwide committed to joyful daily actions that improve ocean health.

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