Preventing Ocean Litter

Ocean ConservancyOcean litter – commonly referred to as marine debris – is a persistent and growing problem worldwide that significantly impacts the health and beauty of our oceans and beaches. The OPC has launched a comprehensive initiative to reduce marine debris in California because this litter  poses serious threats to marine wildlife, including sea birds, turtles, and mammals, as well as  to human health and the economy.

Scientific research demonstrates that debris in the oceans is increasing at an alarming rate: plastic debris in an area north of Hawaii known as the Northwest Pacific Gyre has increased 5-fold in the last 10 years. In the Southern Ocean, the amount of plastic debris increased 100 times during the early 1990s. Researchers estimate that 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources, particularly trash and plastic litter in urban runoff, and the generation of trash and waste is increasing. Sea-based sources include lost fishing gear, such as lines, nets or traps, and accidental or intentional dumping at sea.

The OPC adopted an Implementation Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Ocean Litter in November 2008. The document was created in response to the OPC’s February 2007 resolution that called for a plan of action to reduce and prevent marine debris. The report aims to prompt a change in how California generates, handles, and disposes items that frequently land in our ocean. The implementation strategy offers sixteen recommendations, ranging from banning smoking on state beaches to anti-litter education and clean-up initiatives, with three priority actions. These three priority actions aim to redefine California’s relationship with frequently used plastics and commonly littered items. They are to 1) create a producer take-back program, or Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), for convenience food packaging, 2) ban polystyrene take-out food containers and place a fee on single-use plastic and paper bags, and 3) place a fee on commonly littered products that are not suitable for a take-back program or ban.

The OPC is partnering with Cal/EPA to promote its Green Chemistry Initiative as it relates to chemical that reach our oceans through toxic products. To address derelict fishing gear, the OPC is examining new ways to reduce derelict gear and is working with the SeaDoc Society to publicize a reporting hotline for fishermen who have lost their gear at sea.

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy

Additional Council Documents
Resolution on Extended Producer Responsibility


Related Projects

  • Toxicological Profiles
  • Plastics Flow Account
  • Master Environmental Assessment of Single-Use and Reusable Bags
  • Derelict Fishing Gear
Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy