Plastic accumulating in our oceans and on our coastlines has become a global crisis. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in roiling convergences that make up about 40 percent of the world's ocean surfaces. At present trends plastic is anticipated to outweigh all the animals in the sea by 2050.

Plastics pollution has a direct and fatal effect on fauna. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after imbibing plastic or getting entangled in it. Endangered wildlife like Hawaiian monk seals and Pacific loggerhead sea turtles are among nearly 700 species that consume and get trapped in plastic debris.

It's time to get at the root of this ocean crisis. The Center has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to begin regulating plastics as a pollutant and is working to halt plastic pollution at the source, before it ever has a chance to reach the ocean.

The Plastic Problem

We're encircled by plastic. It’s in the single-use packaging we dispose, the consumer products that populate our stores, and in our apparel, which dissipates microplastic filaments in the laundry.

In the first decade of this century, we made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000. And every year, billions of pounds of more plastic end up in the world's oceans. Studies estimate there are now 15–51 trillion fragments of plastic in the world's oceans — from the equator to the extremes, from Arctic ice sheets to the sea floor. Not one square mile of surface ocean anywhere on earth is devoid of plastic contamination.

The problem is growing into a crisis. The fossil fuel industry intends to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade. These oil titans are rapidly constructing petrochemical facilities across the United States to transform fracked gas into plastic. This means more toxic air pollution and plastic in our oceans.

We need urgent action to address the global plastic pollution epidemic.

Unfortunately, plastic is so durable that the EPA reports “every bit of plastic ever made still exists.” All five of the Earth's main ocean gyres are inundated with plastic pollution. The greatest one has been nicknamed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

300-Mile Swim Through The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Will Collect Data On  Plastic Pollution

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a gyre of plastic debris in the north-central Pacific Ocean. It’s the highest accumulation of plastic in the globe. Just how large is it? Using the map below, click and navigate around the refuse region (shown in red.) If you’re on mobile, zoom in and use two fingers to drag more readily.

A Heavy Toll On Wildlife

Thousands of animals, from small songbirds to blue whales, die horrific deaths from consuming and getting entangled in plastic.

  1. Fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year, which can cause intestinal injury and mortality and transmits plastic up the food chain to larger fish, marine mammals and human seafood consumers. A recent study found that a quarter of fish at markets in California contained plastic in their intestines, mostly in the form of plastic microfibers.

  2. Sea turtles can mistake floating plastic refuse for sustenance. They can suffocate, incur internal injury and perish — or languish by believing they’re satiated from consuming plastic. Tragically, research indicates that half of sea turtles worldwide have ingested plastic. New studies discover plastic pollution is so pervasive on many shores that its affecting their reproduction.

  3. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds ingest plastic every year. Plastic ingestion reduces the storage volume of the stomach, causing malnutrition. It’s estimated that 60 percent of all seabird species have consumed fragments of plastic, with that number predicted to increase to 99 percent by 2050. Dead seabirds are often found with stomachs full of plastic, reflecting how the quantity of waste in our oceans has drastically increased in the past 40 years.

  4. Marine mammals ingest, and get bound up in, plastic. Large quantities of plastic debris have been detected in the habitat of critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals, including in areas that serve as infant nurseries. Entanglement in plastic debris has also led to injury and mortality in the endangered Steller sea lion, with packaging bands the most common entangling material. Dead whales have been discovered with stomachs full of plastic.

Fighting Ocean Plastic Pollution

The Center for Biological Diversity is confronting this problem on multiple fronts. We’ve petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking the government to regulate plastics as a pollutant under the Clean Water Act and will keep pressing for plastic pollution to be regarded as the hazardous refuse that it is.

We’ve sued companies that turn plastic into consumer products to better control their discharge. We’re challenging the permits needed to build those new ethane cracker facilities and organizing grassroots resistance to stop them

There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’re committed to the protracted struggle to reduce ocean plastic pollution.