Tumultuous and powerful blue waves, adorned with crowns of white seafoam, restlessly toss and turn on the surface of the ocean. Schools consisting of shimmering, slim fish dart in and out of rocky crevices as they dance in the deep. Straggly kelp, a flexible forest of living green, stretches out its long fingers to grasp the sunlight above. Ancient, weathered sea turtles with ornate shells silently glide along to wherever the currents may take them. Our oceans are beautiful and deserve our protection. Conglomerations of discarded rubbish should have no place in them, yet, unfortunately, they do.

Unfortunately, there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing over 150 million tons in our oceans today, with up to an additional 8 million more tons entering them annually. Packaging is largely responsible for this problem, as it alone makes up over 40% of plastic usage. Plastic packaging is especially detrimental to the environment, and one need only review the statistics to see why:

– Over 90% of seabirds have fragments of plastic in their stomachs, which depending on the amount, can be deadly, alter their blood chemistry, and perhaps even hinder chick development.
– At the current rate, the weight of plastic in the ocean is expected to be that of fish by 2050.
– Over 100,000 marine animals die from plastic entanglement a year.

Packing is largely responsible for this crisis, according to Scientific American, polystyrene, which is used to make packing peanuts, was discovered in nearly 40% of studies concerning microplastics in the ocean, while polypropylene, which is used to make bottle caps, was discovered in just under 65% of studies. Polyethylene (PE), the polymer that makes up storage containers and plastic bags, including the kind distributed at grocery registers, was found a staggering 75% to 80% of the time. This is not surprising however, as over 500 billion plastic bags are used annually on a global scale, enough to surround the globe 4,200 times if lined up end to end.

Now that the severity and scale of the problem have been recognized, it is now necessary to address it. All potential ways of doing so fall into two categories: prevention and remediation.

Prevention is better than a cure, for if an issue is prevented from occuring, there is no need for its remediation. In the case of packaging waste in the oceans, there are clear pathways of preventative action to take, namely, that of recycling, legislative efforts, and investment in biodegradable alternatives:


Recycling is one of the most effective ways to prevent packaging waste from getting into the oceans, as it ensures that waste is turned into useful products rather than being dumped into the ocean. We all have heard the catchy motto: reduce, reuse, recycle, but how many of us actually follow through with it? According to the facts, apparently not very many, as 95% of plastic packaging is never recycled. Personally, I love recycling and do it avidly, and my actions bear witness to this fact. I have more than once saved recyclable trash from school, smuggling it home in my backpack, or from a road trip, stashing it in the car in order to recycle it at home. Perhaps more a more significant example that I cite so is the time when, when to my dismay, recycling services were suspended in my neighborhood due to COVID-19, I gradually accumulated and subsequently hoarded a considerable amount of paper products in my room, and persuaded my dad to take me to a community recycling drop-off center to ensure that it did not go to waste. I could go on and on about the joys of recycling all day, however I would rather encourage you to discover them for yourself!

Investment in Biodegradable Alternatives:

Choosing biodegradable packaging options would help reduce the amount of waste in the ocean, as it would be compostable, unlike plastic packaging which essentially forever remains in the ocean, perpetually breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. Surprisingly, a lot of the available alternatives are derived from things that we consider to be edible:

1. PLA (Polylactic Acid) Plastic

PLA Plastic is a polymer produced through the fermentation of carbohydrates such as corn starch, sugar cane, or tapioca root. First the corn goes through a process called wet milling, in which the starches get separated from each other. Then, acids or enzymes are introduced into the mixture, which is subsequently heated. This process breaks up the starches into the sugar dextrose. When this sugar is fermented, it produces L-Lactic acid, which is the basis of the PLA plastic. Switching from petroleum based plastic to PLA plastic would reduce the amount of packaging waste in the world’s oceans because, with the proper facilities (ones that can reach 140 degrees for 10 days straight), it is biodegradable. However, the majority of the population does not have access to such facilities, as there are only 113 in the world, so its primary advantage (for now) in preventing packaging waste from entering the ocean is its recyclability.

2. Mushroom Mycelium Packaging:

Mycelium, which is the “root system” of mushrooms, can be used to bind organic materials, such as rice hulls, hemp or wood chips, into white, polystyrene-like foam material. This foam alternative can be quite literally grown into any shape, and is thus a useful alternative for all shapes of foam packaging. As it is easily compostable at home and biodegradable. However, this is not all that this technology can be used for, which is discovered one day to my surprise when I read the label of the packing peanuts my family bought. Mushrooms can be used to make packing peanuts as well!

3. Corrugated Cardboard “Bubble Wrap”:

Corrugated cardboard is a promising material in the fight against packaging waste. It serves as a recyclable and biodegradable alternative to bubble wrap, which never decomposes, and can all too easily end up in the sea.

Legislative Efforts:

Legislative efforts can have an invaluable impact on the reduction of packaging waste, as their impact extends to all under the legislation’s jurisdiction, rather recycling, which is generally done on an individual basis. As compliance with the law is mandatory, its effectiveness in reducing packaging waste is guaranteed. One potential legislative effort that is worth implementing is that of imposing a small tax on non-biodegradable packing, in order to encourage the usage of more environmentally friendly options. In regards to the effectiveness of such a measure, the waters have already been tested, and proven by the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 2002, Ireland imposed a 15 Euro cent tax on plastic shopping bags, and within weeks, plastic bag usage fell by an astounding 90%, as people opted for bringing their own reusable shopping bags, or using recyclable paper ones. England, where my mom emigrated from, also imposed a 5 pence fee on plastic bags in large retail stores, and the effect was the same: a 90% reduction in usage.

I have witnessed the effectiveness of these measures first-hand, for during my trip to England, in which I visited my grandparents, I went to the British equivalent of Walmart: Sainsbury’s. My grandparents, just like the majority of other shoppers, brought our own colorful reusable bags to the check-out, in order to avoid using the store’s plastic ones. Also, whenever my mom, my brother and I went down to the more local shops, we continued to opt for more environmentally-friendly options, specifically, a somewhat embarrassing, black granny trolley, that I had the pleasure of wheeling about in and around the shops, and on the walk home. Both of the aforementioned examples testify to the effectiveness of legislative efforts in reducing packaging waste.

Now that methods for prevention have been established, it is necessary to do the same for those of remediation. For although prevention reduces the amount of packaging entering the oceans, remediation deals with the packing waste that is already there.

Clean – Up Efforts:

The most effective form of remediation is that of direct ocean-cleanup efforts. Although this can be accomplished using manned ships and boats, The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit environmental organization is doing so in an innovative way. They are tackling one of the largest concentrations of garbage, including packaging, in the ocean: the Great Pacfic Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating island of rubbish, that is, for the sake of comparison, triple the size of France or double the size of Texas. The Ocean Cleanup is utilizing floating barriers with skirts, to capture the rubbish on and below the surface. These floating barriers are blown about by the wind, and carried by the waves and the current. When full, a boat comes and drags them and the trash away. They then repurpose some of the plastic to turn it into stylish blue sunglasses as a means to fundraise their operation and spread the word. This instance of repurposing ocean plastic is not a singular one, for other companies, including Method Soap, Bureo Skateboards, and even Adidas, who in 2015 introduced their first line of shoes made from ocean plastics, have done the same.

In conclusion, packaging waste has no place in our seas. We should all dream of the day when our sparkling waves are no longer polluted with stained styrofoam bobbing on the surface, when our colorful coral reefs that teem with life are free from plastic bottles, and our marine trenches conceal only unknown species, not waste long discarded and forgotten. Our oceans are beautiful; let’s keep them that way.

Works Cited:

From Fish to Humans, A Microplastic Invasion May Be Taking a Toll

Eating Even One Piece of Plastic Has Health Consequences for Baby Seabirds

…for the health of our planet

Plastic Ain’t so Fantastic

Eating Even One Piece of Plastic Has Health Consequences for Baby Seabirds

Fighting for Trash Free Seas

Plastic Oceans

7 Ways To Reduce Ocean Plastic Pollution Today

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

9 Eco-Friendly Packaging Alternatives for Your Business’s Shipping Needs

PLA Plastic/Material: All You Need to Know in 2020

Eco-friendly Company Introduces Nature’s Packing Peanuts

Corn Plastic to the Rescue

This is how The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to clear the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is going

Essay by: Janelle Amegatse
ASU Preparatory Academy Polytechnic STEM High School

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