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Pollution Prevention

The Save Our Shores Plastic Pollution Initiative

distorted-turtle_335x215The goal of the Plastic Pollution Initiative is to reduce the amount of trash and debris, particularly plastic pollution, reaching the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the ocean. We work to achieve this by providing the community with opportunities to participate in plastic pollution prevention and removal. Through the Plastic Pollution Initiative, we help individuals make the connection between their lifestyle choices and the collective community impacts of plastic and trash on our oceans.

Save Our Shores addresses pollution in our oceans, particularly plastics, through:


Beach and River Cleanups: A hands-on way to stop pollution before it reaches the ocean

Marine Education: The key to an informed community making healthy decisions for our oceans

Advocacy: Influencing local leader to address the plastic pollution problem in our oceans

Prevention: From July 4th pollution prevention efforts, to our Dockwalker program, to spreading the “Bring Your Own” message

debris-breakdown_000Plastic Pollution is a significant contributor to the non-point source pollution found in the Monterey Bay and around the world. While terms such as Marine Debris and Ocean Trash have been used to describe the garbage that enters the ocean, a growing number of scientists, researchers and marine-based organizations have adopted the term Plastic Pollution, not only because 90 percent of floating ocean trash is plastic, but because the term pollution highlights that we are dealing with a pervasive substance that contaminates water, the cells of organisms, and knows no boundaries.

Eighty percent of plastic pollution that enters the ocean originates from land. Common sources include: recreational beach users, people who drop litter on sidewalks and streets, plastics manufacturers and transporters, illegal dumping, and areas with inadequate trash receptacles. All land-based plastic pollution has the potential to become ocean pollution. Plastics easily blow into the ocean and get washed down storm drains that flow directly to the Monterey Bay and oceans around the world.

Plastics never fully biodegrade. The estimates above refer to the time it takes for plastics to break down into smaller pieces.

The Truth About Plastic

  • Plastic fragments contaminate even the most remote locations on earth. Harmful chemicals leached by plastics are present in the bloodstream and tissues of almost every one of us.


    A black-footed albatross standing among trash on uninhabited Midway Atoll in the North Hawaiian Islands.

  • Plastic pollution harms people, animals and the environment. Plastic is not biodegradable. In the marine environment, plastic breaks down into smaller particles that absorb toxic chemicals, are ingested by wildlife, and enter the food chain that we depend on.
  • Consumption of throwaway plastics, such as bottles, containers, bags and packaging, has spiraled out of control.
  • Recycling is not a sustainable solution. Most of our plastic waste is landfilled, downcycled or exported to other countries. Tragically, millions of tons of plastic poison our oceans. Businesses and governments must take responsibility for new ways to design, recover and dispose of plastics.
  • Plastic pollution is a symbol of our global over-consumption crisis. We must shift our societies away from disposable habits that poison our oceans and land by eliminating our consumption of throwaway plastics and embracing a culture of sustainability.
  • Our health, our children’s health, and the survival of future generations depends on us.
  • Refusing to use disposable plastic items such as plastic bags, water bottles and utensils, is the responsibility of every one of us.
  • Some of the most common plastics found during SOS beach and river cleanups are cigarette butts, plastic pieces, plastic bags and styrofoam pieces. View our cleanup data.

The Impact of Plastic Pollution on Animals

debris_200x1881. Ingestion: Marine animals often mistake plastic pieces for food. For example, bird species, such as pelicans or albatross, will mistake pieces of plastic for small fish. Once the animal ingests the plastic, its body cannot digest it. The plastic item will remain in the animal’s stomach causing it to feel full. Thus the animal will eventually stop eating its real food source. Ingestion can cause damage to the digestive system of marine life, causing malnutrition, dehydration and starvation. SOS is particularly concerned about ingestion, as our beaches are littered with small plastic pieces that can easily be mistaken for food by birds and other wildlife here in the Monterey Bay.

2. Suffocation: Animals can suffocate on plastic pollution, such as plastic bags and six pack holders, which can block air passageways and/or inhibit normal growth patterns. A common example includes sea turtles who try and ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish (their favorite food). Often the plastic bag is too large for the animal to digest and the turtle will suffocate.

cslcoltentangle_200x1883. Entanglement: This can occur when common items like fishing line, strapping bands and six-pack rings hamper the mobility of marine animals. Once entangled, animals have trouble eating, breathing and/or swimming, all of which can have fatal results.

*Ocean pollution affects at least 267 species worldwide, including 86 percent of sea turtle species, 44 percent of all sea bird species and 43 percent of marine mammal species.

The Impact of Plastics on Humans

chrisjordan_400x300Plastic is made from petroleum (oil or natural gas) and toxic chemicals that are often not found on labels, but can be toxic to humans and animals nonetheless. Two examples of harmful chemicals found in common plastic items include: (1) Phthalates: chemicals used to create soft and flexible plastics that are commonly used in the food and construction industries, as well as in beauty products, pesticides, wood finishes, insect repellents and solvents. Studies have found abnormal male sexual development, infertility, premature breast development, cancer, miscarriage, premature birth and asthma, all associated with exposure to phthalates. (2) Bisphenol-A (BPA) is the chemical name for polycarbonate plastics, found in everything from five-gallon water jugs, to baby bottles and the lining in many cans of food, including baby formula. Studies of Bisphenol-A show it is an estrogen disrupter with the ability to migrate into liquids and foods that it comes into contact with (Earth Resource, 2000). Numerous studies have found unsafe levels of BPA in children, adults, baby bottles, water bottles, teethers, baby formula, and other common household items.

A Global Perspective

The North Pacific Gyre, an area of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Japan, is an accumulation zone (gyre means convergence of currents) for plastic pollution said to be at least twice the size of Texas. The North Pacific Gyre represents the largest gyre on Earth and contains roughly 3.5 million tons of trash. In this part of the ocean, studies from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation have shown that plastic fragments outnumber zooplankton 40 to 1!

The Gyre resembles a plastic soup, where tiny pieces of plastic are not just floating at the surface of the ocean but are also suspended in the water column. This makes any cleanup effort incredibly complicated and that’s why many scientists are urging people to stop the plastic at its source: You, the average consumer.


Consumption of plastic, particularly in the United States, has spiraled out of control. Why are we using plastic, a material that lasts forever, to manufacture items that we use for less than five minutes? The following statistics provide examples of the scope of the plastic pollution plague:

  • 60,000 plastic bags are discarded in the US every 5 seconds (Chris Jordan, 2010)
  • It is estimated that an average individual uses 130 plastic bags per year (Earth Resource, 2010)
  • 2 million plastic beverage bottles are used in the US every 5 minutes (Chris Jordan, 2010)
  • 426,000 cell phones are discarded in the US every day (Chris Jordan, 2010)
  • 1 million plastic cups are used just on airline flights in the US every 6 hours (Chris Jordan, 2010)

These statistics are so large, it’s hard to even imagine what impacts plastic pollution could cause in the environment.

For some striking visual representations of the over consumption problem in the US, whether plastic, paper, or other, visit Chris Jordan’s website.

Plastic Costs Communities

It costs the state of California an estimated $72 million per year to collect and dispose of one-time use disposable cups and bags. In addition, it costs California an estimated $52.2 million per year to attempt to keep our beaches clean. In total, the current annual costs to public agencies for litter prevention, cleanup and disposal is $375.2 million (Earth Resource, 2010).

Be part of the solution:

Plastic pollution is a symbol of a worldwide over-consumption crisis. Recognizing your role as part of the problem is the first step toward finding a solution. You can be part of the solution by making some lifestyle changes:

1. BUY products with little or no plastic packaging, and products made from recycled materials.

2. REDUCE the amount of plastic and other waste you use by Bringing Your Own metal water bottle, coffee mug, bag, etc.

3. RECYCLE as much as possible.

4. REFUSE to use plastic single-use items, such as plastic grocery bags, plastic tableware and plastic cups.

5. DISPOSE of your waste properly.

6. KEEP storm drains clean.

7. SPREAD the word! Tell friends how to properly dispose of trash and recycling, and encourage them to Bring Their Own.

8. GET INVOLVED in local politics and encourage our leaders to pass bans on plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, and more.

9. PARTICIPATE in an SOS beach or river cleanup!

10. REPORT litter incidents in Monterey County through this easy online tool.

Additional Plastic Pollution Resources

Plastic Pollution Coalition
5 Gyres
Chris Jordan Photography
Earth Resource Foundation
NOAA’s Marine Debris Program
Algalita Marine Research Foundation
Ocean Revolution
Keep Monterey Clean