More Trash Than Fish

We have been using the ocean as our trash can. If we don’t act now, it will contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025.

Beaches are already littered with trash. Snorkelers have to maneuver around garbage patches. This is damaging tourism and local economies that depend on visitors.

Worse, about one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die from eating or getting entangled in plastic. One of the main culprits: the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag.

Pacific Environment works with local groups to stop the flow of trash into the oceans.

  • We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.
    Sylvia Earle, Legendary Ocean Researcher
  • Over 80% of ocean trash enters the ocean from land. Most of it is the result of poorly managed garbage. Only 20% comes from ocean-based sources like fisheries and fishing vessels.
  • More than 50% of plastic that enters the ocean from land comes from just five rapidly growing economies: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Public officials in these countries acknowledge the problem and are actively looking for collaborative solutions.
  • Almost all plastic already in the ocean breaks into small pieces that sink to the ocean floor, making clean up largely impossible. Better waste management is the solution.
  • Origin
  • Location
  • Prevention
  • Clean Up
The large amount of garbage recovered in annual beach cleanups around the world is likely less than 5% of all the plastic that enters the ocean every year. (Photo: Pacific Environment/Partner)
Seabirds and mammals are dying of starvation and dehydration from eating trash they mistake for food. (Photo: Chris Jordan, via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters)

Trash Free Oceans Start With Smart Waste Management on Land

The most important step we can take right now is to prevent plastic trash from entering the ocean in the first place.

Over half of ocean trash comes from a relatively small geographic area: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Here, demand for consumer products has grown more rapidly than the waste-management infrastructure.

The good news is that trash flow from these countries can be cut in half relatively quickly simply by improving garbage collection and storage to prevent leaks.

Our Strategy

Rural and coastal regions have specific waste management challenges that require different solutions.

In China we focus on rural waste management. The country has a large rural population and garbage collection is often nonexistent. Trash is dumped down river banks from where it makes its way out to the ocean.

We partner with local groups to improve garbage collection in rural villages and stop illegal dumping. We also educate the public about the threat to wildlife and the solutions available in their communities, including citizen monitoring, recycling and reduced use of plastic.

In Vietnam, rapidly urbanizing coastal cities account for the bulk of the country’s trash flow into the ocean. After co-founding the Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance, we are now collaborating with local and international partners to design a path toward a zero waste future. We are currently testing solutions in small, coastal communities and will scale up what is working best to larger coastal communities over the next few years.

Overall, plastic production is projected to triple by 2050. About one-third of all plastic is currently escaping into the environment: roadsides, streams, lakes, and the ocean. (Photo: CC0 via Pixabay)
If plastic production trends continue as predicted, then by 2050 the oceans will be receiving the equivalent of one truckload of plastic every 15 seconds, night and day. (Photo: NOAA)

Big Oil and Plastic

The story of plastic is partly a story of the fossil fuel industry.

The raw materials for plastic come from fossil fuels, and many of the Big Oil and Gas companies also produce plastic, often in the same facilities.

ExxonMobil, for example, ranks as the world’s third-biggest plastic producer; 7 of the 10 largest plastic producers are oil and natural gas companies.

As long as these companies extract fossil fuels, there is a huge incentive to make plastic. If we don’t act, by 2050, 20% of all oil extracted across the world might go toward making plastic.


  • Much of the plastics industry is headquartered in North America and Europe, and reforms to this industry are a key piece of the puzzle.
  • China contributes 30% of global ocean trash due to inadequate, sometimes nonexistent waste management.
  • The use of plastic-intensive consumer goods will likely increase significantly over the next 10 years, especially in countries where waste management is still catching up with consumption.
  • Some plastic products do not disintegrate until 400 years after they landed in the ocean.
  • There are around 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans.