Marine Plastic Pollution

The Problem

We discard far more plastic than we recycle or reuse. Much of it is littered or escapes the garbage or recycling bin and makes its way into our public spaces, rivers, lakes, beaches, and ultimately, the ocean. This plastic waste imposes costs on local governments and businesses, creates navigational hazards, and kills birds, turtles, dolphins and other marine life. Studies are underway to better understand the threat plastic pollution poses to human health. Plastic’s durability, lightweight and low cost make it a useful material for many long-term uses.

But when we count up the environmental and economic costs of using a highly persistent material for a single-use disposable item, it becomes abundantly clear that, in most cases, those costs outweigh the benefits.


According to decades of shoreline surveys, cheap, disposable plastic packaging constitutes the largest and most harmful quantity of litter found in the environment. California needs a program to fairly share the burden of this ever-growing quantity of plastic trash between local governments, taxpayers and plastic producers. This means stopping the problem at its source and expanding recycling.

NRDC and a growing coalition of waste management, community, environmental, and business groups support measures that would stop plastic pollution at it’s source by creating incentives for industry to use less plastic packaging for their products, make them recyclable, and ensure that recycling actually happens. Increased recycling has also been demonstrated to create jobs. Studies show that a national goal of recycling 75 percent of the nation’s waste can create 1.1 million jobs by 2030.

A key part of this program should be to provide support to California communities for those programs that are essential and effective in stopping waste from reaching the aquatic environment. This includes the implementation of both Total Maximum Daily Load plans and Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit requirements, among other measures. Los Angeles County’s TMDL, for example, requires southern Californian cities discharging into the L.A. River to reduce their trash by 10 percent each year, for a period of 10 years, with a goal of zero trash by 2015.

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