How does plastic end up in the ocean?

Do you know that an estimated five million tonnes of plastic is used annually, almost half of which is used in packaging?

And that’s in the UK alone.

There is also a are of plastic equivalent to the size of Europe in the Pacific Ocean.

More of them are appearing at sea and it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the water than fish.

How Does Plastic Make its way to the ocean?

On average a staggering 80 per cent of litter and plastic in the sea comes from land, specifically from three main sources; our own rubbish, industrial waste and plastic products that are flushed down the drain.


It is estimated that only 20 per cent of the world’s rubbish is recycled.

While another quarter is incinerated, that leaves 55 per cent is sent to landfill.

That poses the question: How does so much rubbish end up in the sea? After collection and during transportation, a large amount escapes into the environment either by accident or by being blow there.

Equally litter that doesn’t make it to a bin, either from being dropped on the street or left on beaches, will be washed into drains or taken by the tide into the ocean.


You may have heard the term ‘nurdle’, or at least seen them on a beach.

They are small, plastic resin pellets roughly the size of a lentil that are used in manufacturing to make large scale plastics.

Billions of these tiny plastics are used every year to make products, but many end up on our shores and in the sea through not being disposed of properly, because they escape during production or are lost during transportation.

Nurdles now pollute nearly three quarters of UK beaches.


Microbeads were reported in the news recently because people were outraged to discover that these tiny pieces of plastic were finding their way into the ocean.

They are found in cosmetic products, from face scrub to toothpaste, and were being washed down the drain.

Unfortunately, due to their size, they can’t be filtered out by wastewater plants.

Governments across the world have acted by banning products that contain microbeads, but plastics in cotton buds, wipes and sanitary products are still ending up in the water.

How Can We Reduce The Plastic in the Ocean?

The answer is simple; use and make less plastic.

A revolution has already begun across the globe with more and more people coming together to reduce plastic pollution.

In the UK alone we have had a ban on microplastics, specifically microbeads in cosmetic products, as well as supermarkets joining a conversation about what part they can play.

However, we cannot simply stop there, and much more needs to be done.

What Can I Do?

One person can make a difference and, if we all do our part, we can change our planet’s future.

There are several steps you can take to prevent plastic waste, including:

  • Buy a reusable bottle, made from stainless steel, to reduce the 20 billion plastic water bottles thrown away every year
  • Say ‘No’ to single use plastics like cutlery and plastic cups
  • Try to buy natural fibre clothing instead of synthetic garments
  • Don’t buy products that contain microbeads
  • Always put waste into the appropriate bin and recycle when possible i.e. general waste, plastic, paper, glass
  • Put pressure on companies and manufacturers to use less plastic - the customer is always right
  • Spread the word

With an environmental crisis at the top of the news agenda, it is important everyone is encouraged to take a greater responsibility for their own impact on the environment.

By itself, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific is a frightening and prominent example of the ocean’s plastic pollution problem.

It is evident in recent years that more and more people are aware of the situation and progress is being made to counter the issue.

There is still a long way to go, but the change starts with each of us as individuals.