Plastics Crisis in Our Oceans

The amount of plastics that ends up in our oceans is reaching crisis proportions.
Plastic pollution is not only threatening our waters and marine life, but also the human food chain and our health. We are now producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic every year. Plastic is cheap and incredibly versatile with properties that make it ideal for many applications. However, these qualities have also resulted in it becoming an environmental issue. The “disposable” lifestyle has resulted in estimates that around 50% of plastic is used just once and thrown away.


  • At least 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. That’s similar to emptying a garbage truck of plastic into an ocean every minute.
  • There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way.
  • 322 million tons of plastic were produced in 2015—the same weight as 900 Empire State Buildings.
  • 60-90 percent of marine litter is plastic-based.
  • The average U.S. citizen consumes 167 plastic water bottles each year—but recycles just 25% of them.
  • The amount of plastic in the world’s oceans could increase by a factor of 10 in the next decade.
  • Cigarette butts, plastic bags, fishing gear, and food and beverage containers are the most common forms of plastic pollution found in the oceans.
  • 50% of plastic is used just once and thrown away.
  • Packaging is the largest end use market segment accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage.
  • Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
  • A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes.
  • Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
  • According to the Container Recycling Institute, 100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the U.S. in 2014, or 315 bottles per person. 57% of those units were plastic water bottles: 57.3 billion sold in 2014. This is up from 3.8 billion plastic water bottles sold in 1996, the earliest year for available data.
  • The process of producing bottled water requires around 6 times as much water per bottle as there is in the container.
  • 14% of all litter comes from beverage containers. When caps and labels are considered, the number is higher.
  • From the tiniest plankton to the largest whales, plastics impact nearly 700 species in our ocean
  • Plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtles species

Ocean Conservancy

There are positive steps being taken to protect the oceans.

US Senate Passes Save Our Seas Act!

In a heartening display of bipartisan unity, the Senate recently passed the Save Our Seas Act, a small but significant piece of legislation. This is an important step forward as America shows leadership in the global fight to tackle the marine debris crisis.

A companion bill has been introduced in the House but has yet to pass. Contact your Representative and tell them you want action.

CA Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Reduce Plastic Straw Waste

Majority Leader Ian Calderon has introduced Assembly Bill 1884, which would require servers at sit-down restaurants to ask customers if they want a straw before providing one. The bill would not apply to fast-food restaurants. Click here to read more.

On November 8, 2017, following four attempts in the face of fierce industry objection, the voters of California finally affirmed the state’s plastic bag ban by a margin of 6.5 percentage points in a veto referendum.

Steps we can take to fight the marine pollution problem.
Remember that one person can make a difference. Small accomplishments add up quicker then you might think.
  • Beach cleanups yield enormous amounts of trash, with plastic items a major constituent. Click here to read more.
  • Avoid products with excess packaging. Buy fresh and local. Buy from bulk bins and avoid packages with individually wrapped items. Reducing excess packaging and plastics reduces marine debris!
  • Invest in a reusable water bottle instead of using single-use plastic bottles.
  • Put garbage and recyclables in their proper place. If not disposed of properly, plastics, Styrofoam and other garbage can enter our creeks and rivers and wash out to sea. These materials can choke marine birds and mammals, so dispose of them in the right way.
  • Carry and use non-disposal bags. The most common litter found in the ocean is plastics. Instead of disposable plastic bags, carry and use you own reusable bag at the grocery and other stores.
  • NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration. Graphic: Oliver Lüde

    Use reusable coffee cups and water bottles. Each year, people use and discard more than 25 billion disposable coffee cups and bottles for water and soft drinks. Invest a few dollars in a travel mug and a water bottle.

  • Cut up plastic six-pack rings. If six-pack rings get into the marine environment, they can strangle marine birds, sea turtles and mammals. Cut up the plastic rings found on six-packs of soda and other beverages to eliminate this possibility. Better yet, choose to buy items that are not packaged with six-pack rings.
  • Respect vulnerable marine life. Tread lightly, or not at all, on tide pools and rocky shore habitats because you can crush the marine life that lives there. Keep your distance from sea birds, seals, sea lions, otters and other ocean wildlife as you could disturb their feeding or resting. If you see a marine mammal in trouble, report it to the Marine Mammal Center. The International Bird Rescue Research Center can provide information on how to help an injured bird.




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