Find the answers to frequently asked questions about marine litter. If you don’t see the answer you need below, contact us online.

What causes ocean pollution?

Pollution in the ocean comes from a variety of sources, such as agricultural fertilizers and pesticides as well as marine litter. Marine litter is human-created waste that reaches coastal or marine environments. The Global Plastics Alliance focuses on reducing the amount of plastic marine litter from entering the ocean.

Where do plastics in the ocean come from?

Plastics in the ocean, a significant part of marine litter, come from several different sources. According to experts, most comes from poorly-managed solid waste on land.1 Of that, more than 50% comes from a small number of rapidly-developing countries that have not yet invested in waste management systems. The second most prevalent source of plastics in the ocean is lost or abandoned nets and fishing gear. Learn about the types of marine litter.

1 Jambeck, J. R., et al. “Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean.” Science, vol. 347, no. 6223, Dec. 2015, pp. 768–771., doi:10.1126/science.1260352, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768.

How much plastic is in the ocean?

A new study examined global plastics emissions from the world’s rivers into the ocean. The research estimated 1.15–2.41 million tons of plastic enters the ocean per year.1 But any amount of plastic in the ocean is too much. Fortunately, we know enough about marine litter to act now.

1 Lebreton, L. C. M. et al. River plastic emissions to the world’s oceans. Nat. Commun. 8, 15611 doi: 10.1038/ncomms15611 (2017).

Do some countries allow more plastic pollution in the ocean than others?

Yes. A small number of rapidly-developing countries, primarily in Southeast Asia, account for more than 50% of the solid waste that enters our oceans. As these regions grow, the population enjoys a more modern way of living, including an increase in the use of plastics. However, these countries do not yet have the infrastructure to collect and manage the ever-increasing amounts of waste. This means debris winds up in rivers and dumpsites that eventually feed into our oceans.

The Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter empowers organizations around the world to launch initiatives that reduce marine litter.

How can we prevent ocean pollution due to plastics?

We need to start where the problem starts. According to a report published by the Ocean Conservancy, we need to improve the systems that collect, sort and treat waste components.1 Current composting, recycling and recovery programs help prevent plastics from reaching the oceans, but there is much need for improvement and innovation in waste management.

1 “Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic- free ocean.” McKinsey & Company and Ocean Conservancy, 2015. https://oceanconservancy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/full-report-stemming-the.pdf.

What is plastic waste management?

The process of waste management collects, sorts and treats materials like plastics. This can include composting, recycling or recovering plastics. Improving plastic waste management capabilities offers the greatest opportunity to prevent plastics from entering the ocean.

We know that a significant portion of the plastic waste reaching the ocean originates from a few rapidly-developing countries. These countries do not have the appropriate infrastructure to collect and manage the amount of waste produced. However, the Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter empowers organizations in these countries to launch improved waste management initiatives.

What advancements are being made in recycling plastics?

Recent innovations include a new process that breaks down plastics to their basic molecules. Those molecules can then produce new plastics. Another area of innovation recovers flexible plastic packaging, including packages that are a combination of plastic and other materials. Promising developments with solvents, additives and compatibilizers offer additional options for reusing mixed plastics.

Where do microplastics come from?

Microplastics refer to plastic particles between 0.33 and five millimeters in size.1 Microplastics originate from a variety of sources, including microbeads from personal care products, fibers from synthetic clothing, pre-production pellets and powders, and fragments degraded from larger plastic products. Learn more about microplastics and the research surrounding their environmental impact.

1 Driedger, et. Al. “Plastic Debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes: A Review.” Journal of Great Lakes Research, Elsevier, Mar. 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0380133015000064.

What are microbeads?

Microbeads, a category of microplastics, are manufactured solid plastic particles less than one millimeter in size.1 Microbeads typically serve as cleansers and exfoliants in personal care products, such as soaps, facial scrubs and toothpastes.

Learn more about plastic microbeads and initiatives to reduce their use, including the “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015”.

1 Driedger, et. Al. “Plastic Debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes: A Review.” Journal of Great Lakes Research, Elsevier, Mar. 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0380133015000064.

How much do plastic straws contribute to pollution in the ocean?

The production of individual items like straws are not tracked. However, based on waste collected from the ocean, they don’t represent a large amount of marine litter by volume. Learn about the different types of marine litter.

Will a ban on plastic straws help reduce plastic pollution in the ocean?

No. Focusing on banning a small number of products is an inefficient way to reduce plastics from entering the ocean. More impactful and far-reaching solutions are needed to improve the way we collect, sort and treat waste components. It’s wonderful that many people want to do their part to prevent trash from polluting the ocean. But it’s important to concentrate on the most meaningful solutions.

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