At School

Students around a desk.
Learning about marine debris helps change behaviors and make a difference. (Photo Credit: UVI)

How to Help

Learn how you can help solve the marine debris problem.
At Home

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

At the Store

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

On the Water

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

On the Shore

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

Learn More About Marine Debris

The first step to solving a problem is learning more about it. You can do your part to help solve the problem of marine debris by learning more, and sharing with others.


Help your students learn about this topic with our curricula and lesson plans. You can also sign up for our Education Newsletter to get quarterly updates on marine debris news, activities, and professional development opportunities.


Check out the rest of the Discover Marine Debris section of this website, watch our TRASH TALK videos, or read our blog to learn more about how our trash gets to the ocean and Great lakes.

Start in the Cafeteria

Cafeterias produce a lot of waste such as disposable straws, utensils, trays, and food packaging. That makes the cafeteria the perfect place to start reducing the amount of waste your school produces. You can work with school administrators to change the types of utensils available for students, or you can create a campaign to teach students to say “no thanks” to disposable straws.

A great place to start reducing waste in the cafeteria is through waste sorting stations. By sorting lunchroom waste into landfill trash, recyclable materials, and organic waste, school communities can maximize recycling and composting (where available) and help students understand the importance of disposing their waste responsibly. Check out this video from One Cool Earth that walks through how to start waste sorting stations at your school! You can learn more about One Cool Earth and their latest Marine Debris Program-supported project here.

Plastic beverage bottles can be another big source of waste in schools. A pilot project, supported by the Marine Debris Program, worked to raise awareness of single-use beverage bottles in two high schools in Prince William County, Virginia. The project aimed to connect participants to the environmental impacts of marine debris, expand participation in clean-up efforts, and change behaviors around the use of disposable water bottles. Student-developed campaigns included collecting pre- and post-disposable bottle usage data at schools, surveying barriers to and benefits of using refillable bottles, and a social media outreach campaign to expand peer attendance at county cleanups and develop a video series on the environmental impacts of plastics.

In northeast Michigan, the “Food for Thought” project supported by the Marine Debris Program engaged fourth graders in reducing waste produced in their schools. These Marine Debris Prevention Ambassadors conducted a two-day waste audit where students tallied their waste and investigated ways to reduce an item of concern for their classroom. Learn more about conducting your own waste audit below!

Conduct a Waste Audit

We throw so much away without thinking about it. A waste audit is a great and easy activity to really examine our impact, and start thinking intentionally about the waste we produce.

  1. Decide how you are going to record your waste. The Trash Tracker worksheet in An Educator’s Guide to Marine Debris is a great place to start your waste audit.
  2. Write down everything your classroom throws away or recycles everyday for the next week.
  3. At the end of the week, have the students tally all the waste they threw away and brainstorm ideas on how they can reduce their trash that may become marine debris.

You can learn more about schoolwide waste audits and other marine debris prevention best practices through the One Cool Earth Marine Debris Prevention Best Practices Manual.

Share Your Work with the Community

Schools are often the first stop in chain reactions of community behavior change. Once you make a change in your school, you can work together with the community to share your success more broadly. 

Middle school students in Falmouth, Massachusetts, started a “Skip the Straw” campaign in their school that eventually became a Marine Debris Program supported project, reaching the entire community. These students even created a toolkit of resources to support other students and community groups to reduce single-use plastics. Check out Trash Shouldn't Splash!

Monitor Marine Debris

The Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP) is a citizen science program designed to collect rigorous scientific data about marine debris on beaches across the country and around the world. It is also a program that your school can be a part of. Check out the MDMAP Tutorial videos to learn how you can get started! The data that goes into the MDMAP database is used in studies to learn more about marine debris and where it is found.

Teachers and students from Scotts Valley High School near Santa Barbara, CA, took part in the real science of MDMAP. You can see them collect data and make a difference in "Trash Counts," an installment of our video series TRASH TALK.

Not ready for the commitment of the MDMAP? Try the Marine Debris Tracker App instead! Use the app to record data on the trash you find, whether you're at the beach or just on the playground.