Photo put out by the Greensboro, NC,  government.

Everyone has now seen the famous internet photo of the beached whale with a stomach full of plastic bags, the heartbreaking photo of the sea turtle with a blue plastic bag protruding from his mouth, or worse yet, the video of the poor sea turtle, in obvious pain, getting a plastic straw removed from its nostril. We know there's a problem—there's a plastic garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean the size of Texas—but what can we do? It is only growing worse, with 800 million tons of plastic being produced every year, it is said that in the future, we will have more plastic than fish in the ocean. Let that sink in for a moment.

How does it get there?

When we throw our household garbage out, we expect it to go to landfills, not the ocean. So how did it all get there? There is an excellent “mockumentary” on the internet called “The Majestic Plastic Bag.”      

It shows the journey of a plastic bag as it makes its way “home” to the Pacific, the satire being that this is indeed, not its home. It doesn't belong there. Over 80 percent of the garbage in oceans comes from the land—our beaches, streets, highways. Wind blows our everyday household trash into storm drains, and waterways, and eventually out to the ocean. Trash that awaits disposals in landfills often sits on harbors, waiting to be shipped, and is blown right into the water. Even trash we tie up can become unsecured, and be caught by wind as it is transported to what we think is the proper spot.

The Impact

Over 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. This includes sea turtles, whales seabirds, fish, and coral reefs. If a sea turtle consumes plastics, they become trapped in their stomachs. Because of their downward facing spines, they cannot regurgitate them, nor can they swallow anything else. Horribly, they begin to float because of the gas it causes their system, and they die of starvation or from predators who can now see them. Conversely, a whale or dolphin that becomes entangled in a fishing net that has drifted will also starve. The process will take months because of the amount of fat their bodies have stored.

The most sinister aspect of plastics is that they are truly forever. They take years to break down, and when they do, they break down into smaller, more toxic pieces. They are ingested easier and are perfect hosts for species which are then carried out to other parts of the ocean. In addition, as they decompose, they release toxins into the water, which become part of the food chain.

Humans “get back” the plastics we’ve thrown out in not only the fish we eat, but through the animals we eat who eat the fish! Plastic can never truly be “thrown away” and forgotten.

What can we do?

Again, most of the trash in the ocean is recognizable: it's our plastic bags, straws, bottled water, To-Go cups, packaging, even balloons. The first, most important thing we can do is reduce our consumption of single use plastics. Carry a reusable bag, drink water from a reusable container, and think hard about not using straws anymore. Even chewing gum has a type of synthetic plastic in it! It takes effort to change our habits but many communities have already banned plastic bags and straws, and many restaurants are moving toward biodegradable packaging for To-go items. Innovators have begun to produce alternatives to plastic products. You can reduce your impact by buying biodegradable products like bamboo toothbrushes, or reusable straws, cutlery, and containers for travel. If you have a baby, consider washable cloth diapers.  

For ideas on products that are alternatives to plastics, visit There are many more sites like this out there. This is just one place to start.

Other ways you can help include:

  • Properly secure garbage
  • Participate in beach clean ups and other community clean up events
  • Support bans on single use plastics like straws and plastic bags
  • Even though you think it might be a nice commemoration, do not release balloons in the air
  • Volunteer at marine life conservation and rescue organizations. offers internships and opportunities to volunteer during a visit to Hawaii.


Photo put out by the Greensboro, NC,  government.



Cynthia Hacker lives in New Paltz, NY.  She spends her free time exploring the many wild places that grace the area. She is a writer and lover of nature.