I've started to see this phrase on things like credit cards and plastic bags: "contains recovered ocean-bound plastic."

At first, it sounds like something really positive -- this was made from waste that would have polluted the oceans! But how is this any different than recycled plastic? Is it really that much better?

Cynically, I imagine a company paying someone to drive a truck full of plastic to the ocean, then at the last minute calling them on the phone and re-directing them to a factory. Voila! recovered ocean-bound plastic.

Is "recovered ocean-bound plastic" just corporate green-washing, or is this actually a positive thing that I should choose when making purchases?

  • 3
    With much tongue in cheek: green-washing - washed by the green sea., with bonus salt & UV treatment! "By purchasing one of our ocean bound plastic items you have save a tenth of a whale, so why stop at purchasing one item, buy ten." Maybe I should apply for a job in advertising or PR. ;-)
    – Fred
    Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 17:00
  • 1
    For plastic bags, any kind of recycling is not positive. It's heavily negative. There used to be a time when you could use a plastic bag 10-30 times. Today, most bags are so weak that they get damaged on first use, sometimes tearing so much that you are genuinely worried if your groceries drop out of the bag. Maybe someday it will become feasible to burn plastic into carbon dioxide, then capture that carbon dioxide and combine it with hydrogen produced using electrolysis to create recycled plastic as good in quality as new plastic is.
    – juhist
    Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 17:50

2 Answers 2


Ocean-bound plastic refers to all plastic on land within a 50 kilometer (30 mile) distance of the ocean. The term was popularized by Jenna Jambeck PhD, a professor at the University of Georgia, who published an article about it in Science in 2015. She found that the majority of all plastic in the ocean comes from this 50 km area, that about 8 million metric tons of plastic per year ends up in the ocean, and that the main cause is waste mismanagement (littering, incorrect disposal, lack of processing facilities).

Despite efforts such as The Ocean Cleanup, plastic is very hard to extract once it gets into oceans and seas, so in that respect all efforts to reduce these plastics are a good thing. There are several caveats though:

  • Ocean-bound plastic does not necessarily move itself in the direction of the ocean. It simply consists of all plastic collected in the above stated 50 kilometer coastal region.
  • Even though ocean-bound plastic has a higher chance of ending up in the ocean, but most ocean-bound plastic does not end up there.
  • Other research says that the top 10 of rivers that 'export' the most plastic debris into the sea are located in Asia and Africa, so if you want to focus waste reduction measures on specific areas it would make more sense to target those rivers.
  • By focusing on ocean-bound plastic or top 10 polluting rivers, there is a risk that other areas with significant plastic pollution get less attention. Plastic pollution comes from all over the world, not just a few places.

As far as I can tell, the term ocean-bound plastic is used primarily in the US (and occasionally in the UK and Australia). It is not a protected term, so greenwashing is very easy to do. Then again, I haven't seen any evidence of misuse.


I've found two websites with similar definitions of recovered ocean-bound plastic:

Website 1,

Recovered Ocean-Bound Plastic as plastic waste collected from land areas where the plastic would otherwise be highly likely to enter the ocean.

Recovered Ocean-Bound Plastic is typically recovered within 50 kilometers of a seashore, or near streams and rivers that lead to the ocean, in countries or regions that lack adequate waste management infrastructure. ... this plastic ... a subset of Recovered Ocean Plastic, which also includes plastic debris that is collected directly from the ocean.

Website 2,

Ocean bound plastic is plastic waste that is collected and processed before it hits the ocean's shore or from the shoreline itself.

My take on "recovered ocean-bound plastic" is that it is a public relations gimmick. We all know that a some plastic ends up in the oceans, but not all of it. Some of it gets recycled and some of it end up in land fill.

Plastic recycling companies that process "recovered ocean-bound plastic" are ensuring that some plastic will not end up in the ocean and they are intercepting it prior to it having an opportunity to end up in the oceans. Basically they are doing what they have always done, they've just given it a fancy name to make them look good - the goody two shoes factor. If anything, they might be making more of a concerted effort to acquire plastic before it has a chance to end up in the oceans.

  • Nice finds. May be relevant to add that both links are from for-profit companies, one of whom manufactures credit cards.
    – LShaver
    Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 19:38

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