Trash floating around the world’s oceans isn’t one country’s responsibility. It needs to be reclaimed and processed by the world as a whole, each country taking in what they can to be recycled in the most eco-friendly way possible. To reduce the plastic floating around the ocean, there needs to be a two-part approach, one part to reduce the plastic currently in the ocean, and another part to stop further plastics from getting in the water. It’s imperative that we stop the practice of dumping our trash into nearby rivers and lakes, and find efficient ways to reduce the total amount of trash generated, and control the trash once it’s discarded.

First, I’d like to reduce the plastic currently in the ocean. One pile of this floating trash is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. has a wonderful website for exploring what’s going on in the Pacific, and they state, “The GPGP covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas.” (Slat, 2020) They also estimate that 80,000 tonnes of garbage is floating in the patch, making it no small measure to clean up. My recommendation would be to approach the members of NATO and ask them to complete an audit of their waste management facilities. Have them figure out how much they would be able to take in annually from the garbage patch and efficiently dispose of. Hauling waste off to be burnt is not a viable option, but breaking down the plastics for recycling and reuse would be ideal. This effort could take several years to fully dissolve the floating garbage patch in the Pacific, and that doesn’t include the trash strewn on beaches worldwide. However, this problem took several years to develop, and we’ll have to be patient with a resolution.

Additionally, have the governments take a look at their own waterways and shorelines. Have them set up filtering units before the water goes into the ocean to catch debris that are leaving their own country. Have the government start by cleaning up their beaches so no further waste enters the ocean. Here in the United States, we could mobilize the Coast Guard and other active-duty military service members that are not currently stationed for war. Additionally, if the government has the money to do so, they could offer tax incentives or even cash handouts for bags of trash collected off the beach or waterways. Even a small handout of $10 per bag would be enough to motivate some individuals.

Second, we have to look at where the trash in the water is coming from. Some of the trash is sheer consumer waste. The family goes down to the beach and leaves some drink cups sitting on the beach that end up in the ocean. I’m not excusing this offense, but that’s not the key contributor in this case. National Geographic published an article in 2019 discussing this. Zuckerman states, “Roughly eight million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year. That’s according to a 2015 report, which also identified where the bulk of this trash originates. At the top of the list: China, the Philippines, and Indonesia.” (Zuckerman, 2019) I know the world has already tried talking with China about dumping their waste into rivers and lakes and it’s had little to no effect. If verbal negotiations have failed, the world needs to move to more drastic measures. NATO could come together and decide on legislation that would ban trade with those countries until they’re able to clean up their waste. According to, China exported $2,494,230,000 worth of goods to the United States alone in 2018. Losing almost $2.5 billion in profit would have to be enough to make any country listen to new demands. Or, if those countries would not be accepting of new demands, it’d promote economic growth within one’s own country.

However, China, the Philippines, and Indonesia are not the only countries contributing to ocean waste, they’re just the largest factors. The second step I’d suggest would be switching over to biodegradable plastics when possible. I’ve noticed that Coke-a-Cola bottling had switched over to biodegradable 6-pack holders. While I’m not a huge fan of the practice still, at least having biodegradable packing pieces would eliminate the waste before it became an issue. No animals would be able to get it around their body long enough to cause damage, and the piece would degrade before it joined a floating garbage patch. However, if I go to the grocery store and get eggs, some of them are available in cardboard boxes that will break down within a few years, and some are only available in styrofoam containers. The styrofoam will exist long past my lifetime, all for eggs that were eaten within a week. It’s disgusting that we’re causing this long term effect on our planet so the egg container is water resistant. Also, companies could reduce the layers of packaging when possible. For instance, when I go to get ground beef to use for burgers, the meat is cling-wrapped onto a styrofoam plate. There’s two layers of plastic to contain one pound of red meat. The meat would taste the same if it was placed in a plastic sleeve, without the plate underneath. We also need to stop the practice of grabbing the bag to place our fruits and vegetables in. They grow out in the field the same way they sit on the grocery store shelves. Riding in the car that way won’t further damage them. Finally, when I get the groceries home, there’s no incentive for me to recycle what I can. The cardboard boxes are the same to me whether they’re in my trash can or my recycle bin. I’d suggest that local governments find some way to reward consumers for recycled goods, even if it’s a small tax write-off or even a small community rebate. Some give-back to the consumers to promote environmentally-friendly living would go a long way to promoting green lifestyles in my community.

Overall, it’d take a global effort to cut down on the plastic waste in the world’s oceans. Together, acting as one planet, it’s achievable within our lifetimes. It’d take a combined effort from state and local governments, federal governments, and world organizations to make it happen though. With retraining of our consumers to gear towards more sustainable packaging and goods, and forcing pollutant causing countries to become responsible for their actions, we can reclaim the oceans for wildlife.

Works Cited:

China Power Team. “Is China the World’s Top Trader?” ChinaPower Project, 25 Aug. 2020

Slat, Boyan. “Oceans.” The Ocean Cleanup, 24 Oct. 2020

Zuckerman, Catherine. “Here’s Where the Ocean’s Trash Comes From.” National Geographic Society, 2 July 2019

Essay by: Megan Joslin
Arizona State University

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