Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution is a persistent and growing problem worldwide that significantly impacts the health of our oceans and beaches. Roughly 8 million metric tons of plastics are estimated to enter the ocean each year, and the United States is one of the top 20 contributors to plastic pollution. Plastic has been found in a wide range of marine environments including the seafloor, surface water, the water column, and on beaches and shorelines. California communities are estimated to spend more than $428 million annually to clean up and control plastic pollution. Plastic never truly degrades into its chemical components; instead it physically breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastics under 5 millimeters in size are called microplastics, and are found worldwide, even in places considered pristine. Plastics have been found in the digestive tracts of marine organisms ranging from zooplankton to whales, and microplastics have been found in drinking water and food, including shellfish, salt, beer, and honey.

The State of California has become a leader in preventing ocean litter by passing a ban on single-use plastic bags, and by banning microplastics in wash-off products, like face scrubs and toothpaste. The OPC’s marine pollution program works to address ocean litter by coordinating among the wide range of state agencies and nongovermental organizations that work on plastic pollution, and by supporting needed research to help the state better respond to microplastic pollution.

How do we work on Plastic Pollution?

Click on each strategy below to learn more

Plastic Pollution on Tecelote Beach
Photo Credit: Michaela Miller


Featured Initiatives and Projects

Developing Scientific Trash Monitoring

Starting in 2017, OPC developed a series of projects with the State Water Resources Control Board to develop, validate, and standardize trash monitoring methodologies. These projects also worked to educate interested organizations about scientific trash monitoring methodologies.

Unpackaging Alameda

In 2016, OPC funded a pilot project to “unpackage” Alameda. Through this project, Clean Water Fund worked with 80 to 100 businesses in Alameda to reduce their reliance on single-use disposable food packaging. This project piloted changes in institutional purchasing to reduce the prevalence of single-use foodware that typically becomes plastic pollution. Overall the 80 businesses that participated are estimated to eliminate over 6 million pieces of single-use foodware annually, preventing over 64 thousand pounds of waste each year. Collectively these businesses are estimated to save over $139,000 annually.

Newport Bay Water Wheel

In 2018, OPC approved a $1.68 million Proposition 1 grant to the City of Newport Beach for planning and construction of the Newport Bay Water Wheel Project. This project is modeled closely on the design of the successful Baltimore Trash Wheel project. The Newport Bay Water Wheel could immediately reduce trash load reductions of 50%-80% once installed.

Interactions between microplastics and pathogen pollutants

In 2018, OPC approved a grant to UC Davis for research to investigate microplastics as a potential vector for terrestrial pathogens in the marine environment. This project will investigate the interaction between microplastics and land-based protozoan parasites such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and Toxoplasma, and whether these parasites can ‘hitchike’ on microplastics to infect commercial shellfish species.