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Clean Water Action

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1444 Eye Street NW Suite 400 Washington United States 20005
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The Problem of Marine Plastic Pollution

Polystyrene marine debris

Photo courtesy Charles Moore,
Agalita Marine Research Foundation

Most marine debris (80%) comes from trash and debris in urban runoff, i.e. land-based sources. Key components of land-based sources include litter, trash and debris from construction, ports and marinas, commercial and industrial facilities, and trash blown out of garbage containers, trucks, and landfills.1 Ocean-based sources, such as, overboard discharges from ships and discarded fishing gear, account for the other 20%.

Food containers and packaging are the largest component of the municipal solid waste stream (80 million tons or 31.7 %).2 These items, together with plastic bags, also represent the largest component of marine debris (that is, barring items less than 5mm such as pre-production plastic pellets, fragments, and polystyrene pieces).3 Packaging and single use disposable products are not only ubiquitous in marine debris, they represent an unsustainable use of precious resources (oil, trees, energy sources, water).

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