How Does Plastic End up in the Ocean? - Sailors for the Sea

How Does Plastic End up in the Ocean?

 July 1, 2024  | By: Jennifer Brett

Plastic Free July is a global movement to bring awareness to the plastic pollution crisis we are facing. Throughout the month, we will feature common questions about plastics and plastic pollution,  as well as possible solutions and ways to get involved.

The first question we are addressing this month is “how does plastic end up in the ocean”? We often hear that the solution to plastic pollution in the ocean is to just stop people from littering. Well… it’s a bit more complicated than that. 

While littering and improper disposal is part of the problem, other sources can include:

  • Urban Runoff: where during rainstorms, plastic waste from streets can be washed into storm drains and waterways, leading to the ocean.
  • Natural Disasters: events such as floods, hurricanes, and tsunamis can sweep large amounts of plastic debris into the ocean.
  • Marine Activities: such as fishing, shipping, and offshore oil and gas operations contribute to plastic pollution through lost or discarded fishing gear, cargo spills, and waste dumping.
  • Rivers and Waterways: Rivers are significant conduits for plastic waste, transporting debris from highly populated inland areas to the sea.
  • Waste Management Failures: Inadequate waste management infrastructure, especially in developing countries, leads to large amounts of plastic waste being mismanaged and eventually entering waterways and the ocean.


Similar to the problem, the solution is also multifaceted.

The most impactful thing we can do is continue to support policies that will eliminate single-use plastic at the source. Pay attention to what is happening in your community, city, state and beyond and be a supporter of policies that will reduce plastics. The more voices there are speaking up on this topic, the more likely change will happen.

In the U.S., you can tell your representatives in Congress to support the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, which will effectively address the plastic pollution crisis. The bill builds on successful state and local policies and would put in place a set of laws to reduce plastic pollution at the source, including phasing out unnecessary single-use plastic products, encouraging a shift to refillable and reusable alternatives, and protecting fenceline communities living near plastic production facilities.

Reduce, refill, repurpose. Plastic containers are meant to last forever, so reduce what you buy, and then refill or repurpose them as much as possible.

Be mindful when traveling. Some of our favorite cruising destinations are also some of the most vulnerable to the devastation of plastic pollution. If you plan to travel to remote places without robust waste management, do your best to not add to their burden. Avoid single-use plastic items whenever possible, and consider bringing any plastic waste you might have onboard back to your home port.

Join us in taking a stand against plastic pollution this Plastic Free July.