How do we reduce packaging in the world’s oceans? A few ideas come into my mind, and the most important one is that the reduction of waste that is being put into the oceans all starts with one person, and that person is you. One of the biggest things that we can do as individuals is reduce the consumption of single use products that are of non-degradable composition. Some of these items, easily found in every household, are plastic soda or water bottles, plastic shopping bags, and items that have plastic packaging such as containers that hold food, like grapes and potato chips.

Small steps taken by each person, like bringing their own fabric reusable bags to the grocery store or the use of a reusable water bottle, can drastically impact the packaging waste that gets into the world’s oceans. When I would go to the grocery store without reusable bags, I would come home with 15-20 bags of items, and this was on a weekly basis. So now, lets take an average of 17 plastic bags from getting groceries every week, times 56 weeks. That leaves me with about 952 plastic bags from the store a year, just for grocery shopping, for my one household of three people. That to me is a lot of plastic bags, and that is not even considering the bags that come from other shopping, takeout, and everything else that we use plastic bags for. Since I started taking my own reusable bags to the store, for groceries alone, the plastic bag hamper in my pantry has diminished, which is more than okay with me.

As a community, we can all come together to practice cleanups along our roadsides and streams and rivers. With all the pollution that occurs, the amount of trash that accumulates alongside highways and interstates is astounding. I know this because in my 14 years as a 4-H member, our club would clean an adopted part of a local highway’s ditches twice a year for trash that people had thrown out their windows or had been blown away. In the state of Wisconsin, where I am from, travelers will see adopt-a-highway signs along all major roadways, with specific organizations claiming a small stretch as their own to take care of. If this would be promoted in all the states in the country, and other parts of the world, the amount of trash that leads to waterways would be greatly reduced.

Some might ask how cleaning trash along roadways contributes to the amount of packaging waste in the world’s oceans, and the logical answer is that trash carried along drainage ditches leads to waterways and rivers, which flow into the ocean. According to, there is about 250,000 waterways in the Unites States alone, many that connect to the major rivers such as the Mississippi and the Missouri that drain into the ocean. Globally, there are many more waterways and rivers that lead to all of the oceans of our great planet, and we as individuals and communities are the ones that can stop the packaging waste buildup that endangers water quality and marine life, even if its one plastic grocery bag at a time.

Essay by: Lauryn Hacker
University of Wisconsin-Platteville

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