Where does ocean plastic come from?

Right now, it is estimated that between 10,000 and 100,000 tons of plastic currently float in our oceans and waterways, wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems as they take between decades and centuries to decompose.


But before it ends up in our oceans, where does all this plastic come from? And what can we do to prevent it from entering our oceans?




The number one path that leads plastic into our oceans is our local waterways. Streams, rivers, canals and other waterways all weave through our cities and towns and pick up plastic waste that is improperly discarded along the way. Additionally, microplastics from everything from face wash to our clothes shed into our sinks and drains and find their way through our wastewater management systems and into the oceans.




Open dumping in landfills is another big contributor to ocean plastics. When plastic is dumped into a landfill, unlike organic matter, it doesn’t break down from the bacteria and elements that it’s exposed to. Instead, it remains, waiting to be washed away by a rainstorm or blown into a river by a wind storm.




The “don’t litter” mantra of decades past still rings true today, as much of the improperly discarded plastic waste littering streets and sidewalks will eventually find its way to the ocean once a strong enough wind or rainstorm forces the litter into storm drains or directly into the ocean.


Improperly Discarded Fishing Gear


About 20% of plastic that ends up in the ocean is from plastics that are lost at sea such as lost fishing gear like nets and other devices, industrial losses, or in some cases, illegal dumping. While this amount is significant, it is nowhere nearly as impactful as the amount of plastic that makes its way into the sea from land.


What You Can Do to Help


Overproduction of plastic is the largest contributor to plastic waste in the ocean. 270 million tons of plastic are manufactured each year, and of that plastic, about 8 million tons of it finds its way into the ocean. Until we can not only reduce our manufacturing of plastic but also transition to a circular economy of plastic recycling and reuse, our oceans will remain under the threat of plastic pollution.


You can help reduce the demand for plastic production by choosing to shop for plastic-free, sustainable products to replace those disposable knives, forks, straws and other single-use plastics in your life. You can also volunteer for local beach cleanup efforts to help tackle the masses of plastic that wash up on our beaches every day.


RIO is committed to producing sustainable, tree-free, plastic-free products and turning the proceeds into action against ocean pollution. You can read moreabout RIO’s mission to end ocean plastic pollution and how we are making products that promote a cleaner, more sustainable future for everyone.