How Plastic Ends Up In The Ocean

By RJ Winberg

How does plastic end up in the ocean?

Plastic is one of the largest threats plaguing our oceans and marine ecosystems today. There are many types of pollution, but plastic is particularly damaging due to the sheer volume of it that is making it's way into the ocean and the fact that it takes centuries for a piece of plastic to decompose.

So, how does so much plastic end up in the ocean? People generally throw their trash away in a garbage can, which supposedly gets emptied into a landfill... Not the ocean. So are there really enough people out there just throwing their trash on the ground to cause such a big problem?

I suspect that if we were to examine each and every piece of plastic pollution and were able to somehow know how it got to where it is, we would find that most pieces traversed a road of good intentions. Accidents happen. You might throw your trash into the garbage, but the wind may have blown it back out, or maybe some little creature went digging through the garbage can for a snack. How many times have you seen a garbage truck driving down the road with trash falling out the top of it, or junk falling out of the back of a pickup on the highway.

From Land to Sea

49% of plastic in the ocean comes from land. The wind and rain blow and wash garbage around in the streets until it ends up in a river, storm drain, sewer, or some other waterway. All waterways from land eventually lead to the ocean, and allwater that passes through them bring with them all of the plastic and other pollution that it picks up along the way.

Some trash also gets into the ocean from the beach. Beach goers often leave behind wrappers, bottles, or other disposable plastic objects. This trash, one way or another, also ends up in the ocean. The wind blows it about until the tide eventually takes it in, or it's eaten by birds that eventually die of a stomach full of plastic garbage.

From Boats

Another 18% of the plastic in the ocean comes from shipping and fishing boats. Fishing boats leave tons of plastic fishing line, nets, and other debris in the water for marine animals to get tangled up in.

Shipping crates sometimes fall off ships in turbulent waters. The contents of these crates often fall out and contribute to the glut of plastic pollution in the ocean. In 1992 a shipping container holding 29,000 rubber ducks fell off a boat from china, and to this day you will still sometimes find these toys on shores around the world. []

What to do?

The problem really starts with how we as a society deal with the problem of trash. Unfortunately the issue of plastic pollution has just not been adequately addressed. If we really want to solve the problem we need to deal with garbage in a more efficient manner, and find alternatives to plastic where we can.