Sources of Plastics to the Marine Environment
Plastics enter the marine environment when they are carried by wind and water, including in rivers, streams, and wastewater and stormwater outflows. Plastics are also directly deposited on shorelines or in the ocean when items are lost or littered, and waves and tides can carry plastics from the beach into the ocean.
Plastic consumer items – such as straws, cups, plates, utensils, bags, bottles and caps, and food packaging – may be littered, accidentally lost, or dumped in the environment. Fishing and aquaculture gear, including nets, fishing line and traps, can continue “ghost fishing” when they are lost at sea. Major storms, such as hurricanes, floods and tsunamis, displace massive amounts of all kinds of debris (not just plastics) into the environment. Some of the most memorable losses of plastics to the ocean, such as bath toys, Nike sneakers, Lego bricks and bike helmets, occur when container ships lose their cargo in rough seas. And the smallest plastic debris, including microfibers shed from clothing and other textiles, can be carried not only by water but also by winds from land to the ocean (and back!).