#PlasticFreeJuly: Protecting Our Coast and Oceans by Preventing Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution is a serious threat to our coast and oceans, but it’s a challenge we can overcome with collective action and dedicated efforts. This #PlasticFreeJuly, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) invites you to join us in our mission to turn off the plastic tap and safeguard our marine ecosystems.

The Scope of the Problem

Plastic pollution is everywhere, infiltrating every corner of our planet, from the highest mountain peaks to the deepest ocean trenches. Each year, an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic waste enter our oceans – that’s equivalent to the weight of over 73,000 blue whales! Year after year, this plastic breaks down into microplastics that accumulate in the food chain, posing risks to both wildlife and human health. These particles have been found in fish, shellfish, and even the water we drink and the air we breathe. In California, the plastic debris that ends up on our beaches also harms California’s communities, costs millions of dollars annually to clean up, and harms California’s unique coastal ecosystems.

Plastic free beaches are directly tied to the well-being of our environment and society. Clean beaches preserve the biodiversity of our coastal ecosystems by providing critical habitat for wildlife and supporting complex food webs. Additionally, over two-thirds of California’s 39 million residents visit the state’s beaches at least once a year, making clean shorelines crucial not only for public enjoyment, but also to protect public health and California’s economy.

Recent Initiatives

California’s Statewide Microplastics Strategy

In response to this growing crisis, OPC developed the Statewide Microplastics Strategy outlining immediate actions to reduce plastic pollution and a research strategy to increase scientific understanding and inform future action. This strategy emphasizes precautionary management to reduce microplastic pollution and prioritizes reducing plastic at its source – because once microplastics enter the ocean, this pollution is difficult, if not impossible to remove. This Strategy recognizes that we must turn off the plastic tap and prevent the ongoing proliferation and persistence of microplastics in the environment.

Research and Project Investments

Since the adoption of the Statewide Microplastics Strategy, OPC has approved substantial funding to combat plastic pollution and improve understanding of microplastics to protect coast and ocean health:

  • Plastic Pollution Prevention & Implementation: $417,125 to Los Angeles County to provide technical assistance and support implementation of the Los Angeles County Single Use Plastics Ordinance, including outreach and training to over 2,600 affected businesses to reduce or eliminate single-use food serviceware.
  • Statewide Plastics Monitoring: Over $1.5M across two projects supporting the development of a statewide plastic and microplastic monitoring network to track the state’s progress in reducing plastic pollution and help guide future management and mitigation efforts.
  • Microplastic Pollution Research: Over $1.9 million to five projects to increase understanding of microplastic contamination and inform effective management strategies to prevent ongoing microplastic pollution. These projects range from investigating the transport of microplastics via inland waterways, to the role of clothing dryers as a source of microplastics, and the design of green infrastructure projects to prevent microplastics from reaching coastal waters.

How You Can Help: Get Involved

OPC’s investments and policies are not the only ways to tackle plastic pollution. People just like you can get involved in a variety of ways to make a difference:

  • Reduce Your Plastic Use: Simple changes, such as saying no to single-use plastic or using reusable bags, bottles, and straws, can significantly cut down on plastic waste.
  • Participate in Cleanups: Join events like California Coastal Cleanup Day, where thousands of volunteers help remove trash from our coast and inland waterways on the 3rd Saturday in September. Since 1985, more than 1.6 million volunteers have removed over 26 million pounds of trash from beaches and inland waterways across the state. You can get involved by finding a cleanup near you! Remember, not all cleanup efforts have to be at the beach. Trash from city streets can wash into storm drains and rivers, eventually reaching the ocean. You can organize your own cleanup in your neighborhood, no matter where you live in California, to make a big impact!
  • Stay Informed: Watch the recording of the California Ocean Litter Strategy webinar held on July 10, 2024 to learn how OPC and partners across California are addressing plastic pollution. The webinar includes presentations by:
    • California Department of Fish and Wildlife on abandoned and lost fishing gear;
    • UCSB Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory on a modeling tool to combat plastic pollution;
    • Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research on a recent study examining global producer responsibility for plastic pollution; and
    • Surfrider Foundation and California Product Stewardship Council on recent policy announcements.

Join Us This #PlasticFreeJuly

This #PlasticFreeJuly, follow us on social media to learn more about ongoing efforts and discover how you can contribute to reducing plastic waste. Together, we can create a cleaner, healthier coast and ocean for future generations.

Learn More:

OPC staff attended the international plastics treaty negotiations in Ottawa, Canada in April to highlight California’s actions to prevent plastic pollution. Read California at INC-4: On the Road to an International Treaty to End Plastic Pollution. Photo by Christine Sur, OPC’s Water Quality Program Manager / Art installation outside the negotiations, “Turn off the Plastic Tap”, by Benjamin Von Wong.

Categories: Event, Marine Pollution, Outreach and Education, Plastic Pollution, Strategic Goal 3: Biodiversity