Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Exeter's online course, Climate Change: Solutions. Join the course to learn more.

How to stop waste reaching the oceans

Everyone on the planet bears the responsibility to help clean up the oceans. In this article, we’ll share quick and easy ways for you to reduce the amount of plastic waste you generate.

Re-use your cups, cutlery and bags!

We live in a world where plastic is used far too frequently and without consideration. Think about your day-to-day life. Did you use a plastic bag the last time you went shopping? Did you buy a bottle of water or refill one? Using plastic containers more than once will immediately reduce the amount we’re consuming. And don’t forget to take a ‘bag for life’ when you go shopping!


There are many different types of plastic you can encounter and some might not be recyclable. But many are and it is worth making the effort to find out what you can and can’t recycle in your local area. In the UK, did you know that most recycling points can take your plastic bottles, food containers and plastic bags? Search online now for your local waste disposal scheme and find out what they can recycle for you.

Reduce your consumption – think ahead

This can involve simple changes to your shopping habits to reduce the amount of plastic you might unintentionally be buying. For example, instead of buying 10 yoghurts that are individually portioned, why not go for one big pot? Consider the amount of packaging per product. Also, buying second hand rather than new plastic products reduces the amount of waste you generate.

Plastics in the oceans Plastic in the oceans frequently washes up on reef islands around the world that are in the path of ocean currents.

Out of sight, out of mind?

The actions in your home have consequences that can be far reaching. Don’t put anything down your drains that shouldn’t be there – cooking oils, baby wipes, food waste, anti-freeze, motor oil, cleaning products etc should not be put in the sink or toilet. Dispose of it properly so that it doesn’t pollute rivers that will end up in the ocean.

Clean up your beaches!

If you see plastic or waste at a beach or in a river, pick it up. You may have just saved a marine organism’s life! You could even take part in an organized beach clean-up event to remove waste before it enters the ocean system. They are family friendly events and a great way to get out and about making a difference to your community. Find your nearest by searching online.


Share what you’ve learned about using plastics more sustainably with your family, friends, neighbours and community! Action starts with just one person, but needs to filter out to become meaningful. Improving education and knowing what is right / wrong is important to ensuring our oceans are cleaned as best as possible. If top-down action (government led initiatives) isn’t happening, then bottom-up action (from everyday citizens) can be just as effective.

How does this relate to climate change?

You might be wondering why we appear to have strayed from the topic of climate change. Reducing pollution impacts on the oceans is important in creating resilience and adaptive capacity for marine species. We need clean habitats for the climate-driven mass-migration that is about to occur in our oceans. There is also new research suggesting that the consumption of microscopic plastic debris by tiny animals in the ocean could weaken the ocean carbon sink.

We’ve introduced you to only a few of the many ways you can act to help clean up the oceans. Share in the comment section any more that might be of interest to you.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Climate Change: Solutions

University of Exeter

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: