Plastic in the Ocean: How We Can All Reduce Single-Use Plastics

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Read my affiliate policy.

plastic free alternatives
Wellness Mama » Blog » Natural Home » Plastic in the Ocean: How We Can All Reduce Single-Use Plastics

This post is a humble plea to help be part of the solution to a problem that is much bigger than any of us… the growing amount of plastic in the ocean. We’ve known for a while some of the health issues related to plastic use, and now the environmental concerns are becoming increasingly alarming.

The Growing Problem of Plastic in the Ocean

We all encounter plastic everyday. In fact, I’d guess that it would be almost impossible not to encounter plastic in some form for even a single day since it is used in everything from clothing to automobile interiors to computers and phones. Our planet is starting to feel the effects of this massive plastic use.

Some sobering stats on the plastic problem:

  • Last year, just one of the major soda companies created over 110 billion plastic bottles worldwide.
  • There are an estimated 5+ trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans, weighing over 300,000 tons.
  • Surfers Against Sewage reports that the world produced 1.5 million tons a year of plastic in 1950, and now we produce over 320 million tons a year. And this number is set to double by 2034.

According to, just some of the consequences we face due to growing plastic use are:

  • Over 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million sea birds die each year.
  • Two thirds of fish species suffer from for plastic ingestion and by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
  • 5 massive garbage patch plastic islands have formed in the oceans, including one between Hawaii and California that is as big as Texas!
  • This plastic is also increasing the acidification of the ocean and drastically increasing the chances of coral getting sick.

Recycling Isn’t the Answer

Plastic is designed to last a really long time. This means it can take up to 1,000 years to fully break down, and when it does break down it releases harmful compounds. Recycling is often presented as the solution, but it isn’t a complete or even viable answer for several reasons:

  1. Only a small percentage of the world’s plastic is even recycled.
  2. When it is, it costs thousands of dollars to recycle and the newly recycled plastic can’t even be sold for as much as it costs to recycle it.
  3. We’re producing more plastic than we can possibly recycle and more types that can be easily sorted, which makes the process slow and inefficient.
  4. Most of plastic is recycled into unusable forms that can only be made into park benches and rugs but not bottles, so more plastic is still being created.

See this article for more convincing reasons why recycling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Bottom line: Recycling is better than not recycling, but it doesn’t reduce our overuse of plastic. We all (from individuals to companies and countries) need to start focusing on reducing our plastic use in the first place.

The Worst Offenders

Sadly, the plastic problem is one where individuals shoulder the blame while companies reap the profits. A January 2018 article in Scientific American explains how increased profit margins have encouraged major companies to lobby for continued use of these products.

In short, these companies have resisted measures like the five-cent deposit on plastic or glass bottles that led to a sharp increase in recycling. At the same time, they spend millions on ad campaigns like “Keep America Beautiful” and “I Want to be Recycled” that let us feel like we’re accomplishing something beneficial for the environment when our individual efforts can do little in the face of corporate plastic overuse.

Statistically, states and cities that enact an extra charge on plastic bottles and bags see use of these products reduce by 80%. We could even ban or create an opt-in only policy on single-use products like styrofoam and plastic straws. The problem is so widespread that legislation might be necessary, but I also always like to consider what we can all do individually without the need for laws and regulation.

What We Can All Do to Reduce Single-Use Plastics

This leads me to the small changes we can each make, which together can make a big difference in plastic use. Big companies may not want to stop using plastics because of profit margins, but if we all reduce our use of their products that use plastic, we can influence these corporations with our buying power.


This growing problem affects us all and is only getting worse! Please consider making as many changes as you can to move toward a low-waste or zero-waste mentality whenever possible.

Alternatives to Plastics are an Easy Ways to Make a Difference

The following is a list of alternatives to single-use plastic, starting with the worst offenders. These products are most often found in the ocean and are easy ones to replace:

1. Plastic Bottles

In the US alone, 1,500 plastic water bottles are discarded every single second. Let that sink in. Every single second! We send over 38 billion to landfills and into the ocean every single year. And these are completely unnecessary! In the developed world we have access to clean water, filters, and reusable bottles. Let’s start using them.

Instead use:

  • A reusable water bottle in place of disposable ones
  • Your own water, smoothies, fresh juice, or teas from home brought from home
  • A water filter in your home instead of having to buy water (This investment will save money over time too.)

2. Personal Hygiene Products

Diapers, sanitary napkins, and other hygiene products are a big contributor of pollution. It can cost thousands of dollars to diaper one baby until potty training and contribute hundreds of thousands of disposable plastic diapers to the landfills and ocean. In addition, in a lifetime a woman may use up to 16,000 disposable tampons or pads, adding as much as $300 pounds of plastic waste to the planet.

Instead use: 

3. Plastic Straws

Straws have been in the news lately and many people are already choosing to opt out. Just say “no thanks” to straws in general, or use eco-friendly alternatives instead.

Instead use:

4. Disposable Cups

Polystyrene (styrofoam) cups and disposable coffee cups (which are also lined with plastic) are very prevalent as well. Just like with bottles, these are an easy switch to make and often lead to healthier alternatives to beverages too.

Instead use:

5. Plastic Grocery Bags

We use the average bag for mere minutes before discarding it. In several places, officials have said plastic bags contributed to flooding by clogging drains and keeping the water from abating. And these types of plastic leach BPA and other compounds into our food and our skin.

Instead try:

6. Produce Bags

Produce bags are easily replaceable too. While the plastic ones in the store are so easy, some inexpensive reusable bags are actually much more convenient and save a lot of plastic exposure in the long run. As a bonus, they don’t rip and drop all of your produce if you pick them up the wrong way!

Instead try:

7. Plastic Containers & Food Wrap

If we’d all just stop buying anything that comes in a plastic container, I think we’d all see our health and our planet change almost immediately! But since that is a really tall order, we can start with some baby steps like reducing packaging from overly processed foods, storing our leftovers in reusable glass or stainless containers, and using non-plastic wrap.

This post has a full list of how I did this in my kitchen, but there are a couple of my favorites listed here…

Instead try:

8. Plastic Soap Containers

Many types of antibacterial soaps actually harm the skin microbiome, and they come in single-use plastic containers.

Instead try:

9. Bottles of Cleaning Products

In the same way, cleaning products are often just a small amount of the effective ingredient diluted in a lot of water and sold in a big plastic bottle! Many of these cleaners carry the same risks as antibacterial soaps and there are natural options that work much better.

I opt for non-toxic and safe natural cleaning concentrates and use these to make everything from foaming hand soap to all purpose cleaner and laundry soap. The concentrate comes in a single plastic bottle that is recyclable and I use this to fill reusable glass or stainless steel pump or spray bottles for use around the house. This reduces the need for dozens of other plastic containers!

Instead use:

10. Food Packaging

Most processed foods come in plastic packaging, and most of them aren’t great food choices anyway. Skip the packaged food and make meals and snacks at home to reduce packaging (and your body will thank you too).

Instead try:

  • Buying foods in bulk whenever possible
  • Joining a natural foods co-op
  • Supporting local farmer’s markets
  • Using stainless steel containers for school lunches

11. Gum

Might not be the first thing you think about when you think of plastic, but most gum does contain plastics and a lot of it ends up in the environment each year.

Instead try:

Take the No-Plastic Challenge for a Month

If you’re as concerned as I am about how plastic is affecting our health and our planet and want to make a difference, please join me in avoiding single-use plastics for a month. The rules are simple and we’re on the honor system, but here’s how to do it:

  1. Make a plan for how you’ll avoid or replace these single-use plastic items. Carry a water bottle and reusable coffee mug. Stock your car with some reusable grocery bags, and meal plan to cook foods at home instead of ordering takeout. And swear off drinks in plastic bottles entirely!
  2. Get any necessary supplies to have on hand instead.
  3. Consider supporting brands that remove plastic from our land and the oceans. I recently purchased some backpacks from Got Bags and like their mission of removing as much plastic as possible from the ocean water.
  4. Let us know in the comments when you’re starting and how it goes!

Will you join me in the No-Plastic Challenge? Do you have other ideas for reducing plastic use? Let’s get started changing the planet for the better!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


7 responses to “Plastic in the Ocean: How We Can All Reduce Single-Use Plastics”

  1. Stacey Avatar

    I hope and pray that we may change quickly enough to turn things around and not bring about our own and other species extinction. I have witnessed scary amounts of plastic on the beach and in my son’s beard when he and I dove under a wave in my old home town in Hawaii, and recently several dead whales on the beaches in the PNW. It is difficult when even the organic produce in our local stores is all wrapped in plastic. I appreciate this post and article, and we need many many more to turn the tide. Keep up the good work Katie!

  2. Cat Albert Avatar
    Cat Albert

    Thank you for promoting a plastic-free world! Recently, I read about an autopsy of a deceased whale. It’s belly contained 80 pounds of plastic shopping bags. Simply using fabric bags could have saved this whale’s life! We really CAN make a difference!

  3. sandy Avatar

    Great ideas! From Mercolas website I read about Boyan Slat a boy genious who came up with a recycling barge. it sucks up plastic and garbage. there is also a James Dyson who is involved with the massive cleanup efforts. Great cause and gives some hope to this massive global problem. I just searched recycling barge that cleans up plastic from oceans,and there is a wealth of information,and will tell the story of these ocean heroes!

  4. Naomi Avatar

    This is such a great Post! Thank you for posting this!
    So many people need to read this.
    Unfortunately many people turn the cheek and down play the crises at hand. It is a crises.
    People are in denial of the peril the oceans and all life on this planet face with toxins seeping into the water and land. How the toxins are diminishing life in the oceans from where people comsume sea life.
    It is really tragic what is going on. Since the fate of the world is left up to as an individual choice to make changes and habits that is a small revolution.
    People do not see a problem unless there are more announcements and laws and regulations bring about change.
    I am still hopeful.
    I am definetly an optimist, I an avid recylcer and I started a recycling program at work with the support of my boss and coworker and people think I’m crazy.
    My boss ordered recycling blue bins to place bottles paper and plastic but people throw food and water and everything.
    I am the only person who really seperates everything. We need to stick together and lobby for ban on single use plastic.
    I had no idea that it is expensive to recycle plastic.
    I had no idea that there are only few plastics that can be recylcled.

  5. Dina Avatar

    I’m all for cutting down on plastics. My city id now enforcing a “no plastic bag” rule for all stores. At the same time though, I used those plastic bags from the supermarket to line my toilet trashcans, etc. Now I will have to buy them! It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference doing that does it?

  6. Lexie Avatar

    I love this! It just breaks my heart that people just don’t care that we are leaving this planet to our children totally trashed! We use and use and we have not given back for so long that we have forgotten that we need the natural world to survive. Last year I converted to canvas grocery bags and that has been great! I love having a bag I can throw over my shoulder and it full of sweet potatoes! I have used a stainless water bottle for years and that one has had no down side either but converting my kitchen to plastic free is proving much harder!

    I have enough canning jars to last several lifetimes but I’ve been using plastic baggies for so long that I use them without thinking about it. A few months ago I decided to start using my dishwasher to store jars and lids in, since I prefer washing the dishes by hand anyway. This would keep them close by, clean and ready for use but I forget and revert back to plastics! You have inspired me to stop buying baggies. I guess I will move what I have into the pantry so I can’t just take one out without thinking. I will probably still have to use a few just because I can freeze things flat and stack them sideways in the freezer. I definitely haven’t found anything that can be even close to that space efficient.

    Have a wonderful, thoughtful 2019!

  7. Barbara Avatar

    Great article and so important! I did not see anything about microfiber cloths which shed lots of microfiber plastics when washed and end up in our bodies of water and oceans.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *