How to Help

Tons of our trash flows into our ocean, waterways, and Great Lakes every year. It is a complex and ever growing problem, and it’s up to everyone to play a role in the solution. In many places, plastic is the main type of debris that you will see as you walk along a beach. In other locations, construction debris or fishing gear may be a common sight.

Single-use and disposable items are deeply ingrained in our everyday lives. If you look around right now, you will see many objects that you are eventually going to throw away. As a society, we have moved increasingly towards on-the-go lifestyles where we value the convenience of these disposable items. If we want to stop the flow of trash into our ocean and Great Lakes, everyone, including government, businesses, and people like you, will have to make some meaningful changes.

Take Action in Your Community

There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to marine debris, and communities around the country are affected by marine debris in different ways. Beach-side Floridian communities may be concerned with abandoned vessels, while in coastal communities throughout the Northeast, lost fishing gear may be more prevalent. If you live inland, trash in the ocean and Great Lakes may not be directly visible, but your community may still have a role in creating the waste that becomes marine debris. Finding solutions that work for your community makes the fight against marine debris more effective. By working together as a community, we can have a larger impact. 

Ideas for What Your Community Can Do

  1. Lead or participate in a community cleanup. By picking up the trash we find on our local streets, in our rivers and streams, and on our beaches, we can prevent that waste from becoming marine debris. Starting a cleanup is easy, but if you would rather just participate, sign up for our monthly newsletter to learn about cleanups that may be happening near you. During a cleanup, collect data on the debris you find using the Marine Debris Tracker App.This tool is a great way to get involved in local data collection.
  2. Model the behavior you want to see. Food packaging is one of the most common types of debris found during cleanups. You can reduce the amount of food packaging waste you produce and inspire others to do the same by bringing reusables wherever you go. Bring your own cup to your local coffee shop, your own takeout containers to restaurants, or your own utensils to community events. You will be reducing your own waste as well as setting an example of what your community can do every day about marine debris. 
  3. Create a sharing economy. As the old saying goes, one person's trash is another person’s treasure. Instead of throwing away unwanted items, find ways to share with your community. Hosting clothing swaps, organizing community yard sales, or setting up a borrowing center can all help keep waste out of the landfill. The less waste we dispose of, the less material there is to potentially become marine debris.
  4. Contact your Marine Debris Program Regional Coordinator to learn more about how marine debris is affecting your region and for more ideas on how you can get involved. 
Japan Tsunami Debris Floating
Japan Tsunami Debris Floating

What You Can Do

Looking for specific ideas on what you can do where you are? Check out these links for more examples and resources.

Learn about simple actions you can do at home to minimize your waste.

Learn about how you can make an impact as a consumer.

Learn about ways to incorporate marine debris lessons and activities at school.

Learn about how you can help as a boater or fisher.

Learn about ways to keep our ocean, waterways, and beaches free of debris.

The Great Lakes Land-based Marine Debris Action Plan provides partners a roadmap to success for addressing marine debris in the region.