How does plastic get into the ocean?

And what can we do to stop it?

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

By Alice Peace (Sustainable Travel Writer at Discoveny)

Table of Contents

Oceans are pretty special. Home to over 80% of life on Earth, our seas absorb four times more carbon dioxide than the Amazon Rainforest and contain an incredible amount of biodiversity. 

But they also contain an incredible amount of plastic.

There is over 150 million tons of plastic already floating in the seas. And by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

But how does plastic get into the ocean in the first place? What can we do to avoid it?

We outline the main reasons below.

1. The Fishing Industry

boats, harbour, sea

Lost and abandoned fishing gear is the biggest plastic polluter in the ocean, with discarded fishing nets making up 46% of the pacific garbage patch. This poses a deadly threat for wildlife that can become entangled in nets for decades after.

So what can you do?

Greenpeace is calling for a UN treaty for marine protection, designating ocean sanctuaries covering 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

Supporting NGOs and non-profit organisations like Greenpeace and OCG doesn’t have to cost you anything but can help speed up the implementation of policies and removal of plastic to protect our oceans and wildlife.

If you wanted to go a step further, you could also limit the amount of seafood that you eat.

2. Our Waste Disposal

how does plastic get into the ocean

Of the 260 million tonnes of plastic worldwide that we throw away annually, an estimated 9 – 12% gets recycled.

The rest lands in a landfill.

As plastic is so lightweight, it often blows off trucks during transport, or falls out of bins.

Rainwater and wind carries plastic waste into streams and rivers and through drains. This eventually leads to the ocean!

You can combat this by limiting the amount of single use plastic you use.

Bags, bottles, straws, cotton buds or wrappers are lightweight and can easily be blown by the wind into rivers and seas.

You can also make sure you recycle where possible and dispose of plastic waste properly. 

3. Microplastics

how does plastic get into the ocean

Whether the waste in the ocean is from individuals or industries, wind and waves eventually break it down into microplastics.

Other activities, like washing polyester clothing or plastic dishes and cutlery can also leech microplastics into water sources.

These tiny pieces of plastic are consumed by marine animals, from plankton to whales.

Microplastics are so widespread, found in everything from seafood to water, that humans consume approximately five grams a week. That’s the same weight as a credit card. 

You can limit the number of microplastics that end up in the ocean by choosing plastic-free alternatives wherever possible.

Opt for products made of natural fibres, like linen, cotton, or wood. When washing polyester clothes, use a guppy friend wash bag to catch all those microplastics and discard them safely.

We’re all responsible for keeping our oceans clean.

Making little changes, such as swapping to plastic-free products or using the OCG search engine can help keep plastic out of the seas.

If you feel inspired, why not make big changes, like organising a beach cleanup or volunteering with an ocean-saving charity?