How Much Plastic is in the Ocean?

What can you do to make the oceans plastic-free?
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Ocean plastic pollution is a massive environmental problem. Millions of tons of plastic waste enter the ocean every year, even plastic that goes in the trash can often ends up in the sea! This week we learn about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and look at the dangers ocean plastic poses to ocean animals. Plus, a few tips for you to reduce your own plastic use!

Plastic Oceans Foundation:

United Nations “Clean Seas” program:

The 5 Gyres Institute:

Lonely Whale Foundation:

Take this quiz to learn about your plastic impact:

10 ways to reduce plastic pollution:

The no plastic straw pledge:

Ocean plastic pollution resources from Monterey Bay Aquarium:

What will it take to get plastic out of the ocean?

Resources for teachers:


Cózar, Andrés, et al. “Plastic debris in the open ocean.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.28 (2014): 10239-10244.

Jamieson, Alan J., et al. “Bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants in the deepest ocean fauna.” Nature Ecology & Evolution 1 (2017): 0051.

Jambeck, Jenna R., et al. “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Science 347.6223 (2015): 768-771.

“Moby-Duck” by Donovan Hohn (Harper’s Magazine)


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It’s Okay To Be Smart is hosted by Joe Hanson, Ph.D.
Director: Joe Nicolosi
Writer: Joe Hanson
Producer/editor/animator: Andrew Matthews
Producer: Stephanie Noone and Amanda Fox

Produced by PBS Digital Studios
Music via APM
Stock images from Shutterstock
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20 thoughts on “How Much Plastic is in the Ocean?”

  1. Can you commit to one plastic-free change in your life? Share it below!

    As for me, I'm saying "no thanks" to plastic straws whenever I can.

  2. few years ago biodegradable plastics were invented so why not use that you can throw it away in soil and it'll decompose

  3. What if we only make plastics heavier than water? Could this (partially) solve the problem? At least no more micro-plastic floating around in the ocean. Thus no damage to surface marine life. I am not sure what will happen then. Maybe most of them will never have chances to reach the sea. They will probably stay on land as most heavier objects do. If they somehow end up in the sea, they will sink to the bottom. Because there is no sunlight, it will not break down (due to lack of uv), so that they will hardly turn into micro-plastic. Thus no chance to be eaten by fishes. I think the plastics will likely be buried by other debris soon. Does it mean the problem can be solved this way?

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