There are many photos of the ocean, which in some parts is littered with all sorts of waste, often plastic bags, containers etc.

I just wonder - how do such large amounts of plastic land in the ocean/sea? Isn't waste disposed of at secure sites - so such a bag would either be recycled or in the worst case end up on some landfill?

Of course rogue companies or entities could occasionally dump some trash into the ocean, but the massive amounts of it seem surprising to me. Besides, often the argument is to not use plastic bags, containers etc. Simply USING them shouldn't put them in the sea.

So what does, and can it be stopped?

2 Answers 2


Carelessness, wind and rain.

Humans are careless, so leave all manner of plastic outside in their yards. A gust of wind catches the plastic and blows it onto a nearby road. It rains, and the plastic is washed into the gutter and stormwater system, where it travels through drains, culverts, creeks, rivers and ultimately out to sea.

That's why pollution at outflows is always worst after a storm... where wind and rain go hand in hand.

Commercial and industrial premises are just as bad as residential ones — if not worse — but the cause is still the same: Carelessness, wind and rain.

Of course we can (if we want) specifically blame winds for toppling garbage bins set out for collection, and animals for digging through trash, and the homeless for rummaging through dumpsters and leaving the lids open, and kids for unwrapping their toys outside, and transport companies for poorly wrapped pallets, and construction companies for a plethora of loose materials on building sites, and children for posting 'lost dog' signs on electricity poles, and nationalists for flying flags, and Christians for decorating outdoor Christmas trees, and any of a million other groups of people for putting/leaving lightweight plastics outside where the elements can relocate them... but the root cause is still the same for all of them — so it makes more sense to focus on the root cause.

Unfortunately, having garbage that 'disappears on its own accord' is probably seen as a good thing by the 'average' person, not a bad thing, so I doubt you can change people's behaviour enough to make a measurable difference. As long as 'trash' is something people 'put outside' and ultimately 'someone' or 'something' makes it 'disappear', this problem will persist.

"Out of sight, out of mind" is a powerful enemy.

  • 1
    Marked as answers, because while both current answers are good, yours has pointed out something I haven't thought about - that waste is not only disposed off (either legally and environmentally acceptable or in a illegal/"dirty" manner) but also is taken by the elements to the rivers, which flows into the sea/ocean. And this is something not easy to control, hence less plastic used in general, should reduce amount which is hijacked by the winds/rain and transfered to the ocean.
    – Niteraleph
    Apr 25, 2018 at 13:08
  • @Niteraleph Yep, less use of plastics overall is probably the best strategy. Changing lightweight plastics to make them more UV-unstable/biodegradable would also help on the back-end.
    – Tim
    Apr 25, 2018 at 17:10

There are many ways how plastic waste ends up in the sea. A non-complete list would include the following: Micro-plastics from our washing processes, they are in almost everything like shampoo, peelings, cosmetics, etc., but also our clothes contain a lot of plastics which leaves the washing machines continuously.

Next are ships, loosing load, leaving old fishing nets in the oceans and of course (even when forbidden internationally) there are still a lot of ships simply dumping waste into the sea.

A big problem are underdeveloped countries, especially the poor suburbs of big cities, where there is neither a sensibility or education on plastic waste nor are there treatments, collection or deposits to recycle plastic waste.

And also a lot of people (not only in underdeveloped countries) leave a lot of plastic waste at beaches where next high tide takes it to the sea.

However, even in the developed countries we have an enormous exportation of plastic waste (previously collected and assumed to be recycled or deposited locally) to other countries, declared to be "cheaper recycled" there. In many cases nobody really knows what happens with this waste once has reached its destination country - if it reaches those countries at all.

Many people are thinking about catching plastics out of the sea, but avoidance of introduction of plastic waste is a major topic as well. As it is difficult to educate so many people the general avoidance of plastic may be an important step.


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