15 Things You Can Do to Help Keep Oceans Clean

pcess609/iStock, Getty Images
pcess609/iStock, Getty Images

Each year, millions of people plan trips to the most beautiful beaches all around the world for relaxing afternoons of sunbathing and swimming in the ocean. Our beaches and oceans are a natural wonder that should be taken advantage of, after all. But they're also facing a pollution crisis. From untold tons of plastic to carbon emissions and household chemicals getting into our waterways, the dangers facing marine life are mounting.

In honor of World Environmental Health Day on September 26, it's important to realize that it's not enough just to enjoy our oceans—we also have to keep them clean and actively protect them. And here are 15 ways you can help.

1. Educate yourself.

A discarded plastic cup in the ocean.
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It's hard to clean up the ocean without knowing why and how it gets polluted in the first place. So the first step is to get informed. Go online, turn on a documentary, or grab a book from the library—there are countless ways to learn about the ocean without having to move off the couch.

Learn how your plastic water bottle winds up in the ocean in the first place, or how the oil from your engine can travel through the sewer and into nearby bodies of water. You can even learn about lesser-known forms of pollution—did you know that even noise pollution underwater can kill marine life? The best way to begin your ocean advocacy is to know the hows and whys.

2. Cut down on plastic use.

Endless plastic bottles on discarded on the beach.
Sablin/iStock, Getty Images Plus

There are plenty of reasons to cut down on the plastic you use every day, but if you want to do your part for the ocean, it's doubly important. To put it into sobering perspective: It's possible that around 8 million tons of plastic get into our oceans every year, harming plant life, water quality, and marine animals around the globe. To put that into further perspective, around Los Angeles, around 10 tons of plastic fragments find their way into the Pacific every day.

Single-use plastics are among the most wasteful, but they're also the easiest change you can make to your lifestyle. Instead of buying single-use plastic water bottles in bulk, switch to reusable bottles you can fill up again and again. There is also a movement among cities, countries, and certain restaurant chains to get rid of plastic straws, bags, utensils, and other smaller plastic items that can be easily swapped out for something more sustainable. Make that change in your own home, too.

3. Hold companies accountable.

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It's not just individual consumers who need to watch their plastic consumption—it's local restaurants and global corporations as well. Find out which companies and businesses employ the best practices when it comes to packaging and plastic usage and which ones don't.

If you feel like your local take-out place or café is being excessively wasteful, tell them. (Also, do your part by telling them you don't need any plastic utensils or paper napkins if you're planning to eat at home or the office.) And if your issue is with a larger chain, get in touch with them on social media or write an email. Then you can start digging deeper. Harmful microbeads are banned in the U.S. [PDF] for their impact on oceans, but what about in other countries? And are the products you're using actually free of them? Find out, because while you may practice clean ocean habits, the companies you buy from may not.

4. Be aware of chemicals in your gardens and on your lawn.

Woman spraying plants in her garden
iStock

Pesticides, fertilizers, weed killers—three things that are ubiquitous on lawns and gardens around the world, but each can be very harmful for our oceans. Pesticides and weed killers work by using dangerous chemicals, and though your plants and yard may benefit, those chemicals can easily get into our water systems. And if you live close enough to an ocean, they’ll likely end up there.

Fertilizers have an interesting effect on the eco-system. The excess nutrients can be carried by rain and wind to various water systems. Once in rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans, these nutrients can help with the growth of algae at an unnatural rate. When this happens, the algae's natural toxins can not only poison marine life, but the algae itself can use up the oxygen in certain areas of water, making it impossible for anything else to survive. These are called "dead zones," and the roughly 500 of them around the globe cover some 245,000 square kilometers (that's about the size of the UK). Luckily, there are ways to have and maintain a garden while being responsible to the environment.

5. Recognize the harm of individual litter.

Picking up a bottle on the beach
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Picking up after yourself on the beach should go without saying, but just take a look around the sand the next time you're by the shore—obviously someone didn't get the memo. Stray bottles, cans, bags, and napkins can be ubiquitous along waterways, and even just one piece of litter can pose a problem. This garbage can be picked up by the wind, get stuck around the necks of birds and other animals, and carried back out to sea by the tides.

Keep anyone in your party accountable for their messes, and if you encounter some trash that isn't yours, pick it up anyway and throw it away. That plastic bag or discarded soda can is an immediate threat to any marine life that could get caught in it, so be sure to do your part.

6. Volunteer your time to clean up.

A group of people cleaning up the beach.
jf/Getty Images

Picking up litter while on a beach vacation is great, but you can also organize your own cleanup in your community if you live near an ocean. First, talk to local politicians and community groups to see if there's an existing ocean cleaning effort in your area. If not, go through those channels to help organize one. This is a great way to call on townspeople in your area—including friends, strangers, and local schools—to help beautify the area and teach positive habits when it comes to maintaining a cleaner ocean.

7. Donate to an ocean charity.

A person holding a sea turtle
iStock

Not everyone lives near an ocean to help do the legwork, but a simple donation can go a long way. Research charities in your state or around the country that help clean the ocean and see if they're holding a fundraiser or collecting supplies for a cleanup effort.

In addition to donating to cleanup charities, there are also ways to give money to research efforts, conservation groups, and educational foundations.

8. Watch what you flush.

Using a plunger on a backed-up toilet.
iStock

Medicines have been detected in groundwater and in marine life in the past, likely from being flushed and lingering in water systems afterwards. And 4500 wet wipes were found in a 154 square-meter portion of the Thames river in 2017—a byproduct of a bathroom staple that doesn't break down in the flushing process like people think.

These are just two examples of products that are often flushed or poured down a drain without a second thought but could build up over time and pollute local waterways, soil, and oceans. Cotton balls, floss, cat litter, insecticides, vegetable oil, paint—this is just a snapshot of products that are harmful for oceans and marine life if flushed. So next time you open that toilet lid to discard a harsh cleaning agent, find out if it's safe.

9. Conserve water.

Sprinkler system spraying water.
iStock

Any of the water you use in your home is later sent to a sewage treatment plant [PDF] where the pollutants are removed before being reintroduced into local bodies of water. The problems come not only when harmful products and chemicals are flushed, but also when we simply use too much of the available water.

As the Surfrider Foundation points out, excess water at these treatments plants can overwhelm the systems—many of which are older anyway—leading to pollutants getting through and finding their way into oceans, rivers, streams, etc. To do your part, simply conserve the use of water in your home. Take shorter showers, don't leave sinks running, and cut down on any superfluous activities like washing your car for long periods of time.

10. Don't throw anything overboard.

A bottle floating in an ocean
iStock

Whether you're out on a cruise or fishing on a lake, be mindful of what you leave behind. Never throw any trash overboard, even if you think it's harmless, like a stray fishing hook or line, or something small like a used piece of chewing gum or a cigarette butt. There's a ripple effect to any foreign item that enters a waterway, and often the consequence is that those tiny items amass into a large problem for the local ecosystem. Encourage those around you to be similarly mindful, and take proactive measures to ensure garbage and recycling bins are onboard during your trip.

11. Watch what you eat.

A plate of seafood.
AlexRaths/iStock, Getty Images Plus

Being a responsible seafood consumer is a vital part of ocean conservation, and knowing what fish you're eating and where it's coming from is a big part of that. Familiarize yourself [PDF] with the fish you buy and where it was caught when you pick out your next meal, and ask your local supermarket chain or restaurant if their selection of seafood has been farmed in an ethical way that protects the ocean's ecosystem and doesn't pollute the water in the process.

12. Reach out to your elected officials.

An offshore drilling platform
iStock

What's your state representative or governor's stance on ocean pollution and conservation? Is your state considering offshore drilling, which can result in accidents that impact the environment? Find out what the politicians in your state are doing about the environment and see if it's a plan that will provide a cleaner ocean for future generations.

If your state is in a good place, ask if there is a chance to volunteer to help realize the goals of your elected officials. If your state isn't doing enough about the oceans, write letters and get in contact with both elected officials and local environmental clubs of influence. For instance, the Pacific Fishery Management Council recently voted to protect approximately 140,000 square miles of ocean from bottom trawling, a move that will prevent commercial fishing nets from harming coral and rocky reefs in that area. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, who were also involved, this vote was a result of five years worth of research and lobbying from environmental groups and charities, and thousands of letters from activists and concerned citizens.

13. Keep up-to-date on the latest environmental news.

A person reading the news on their phone.
iStock

Taking care of oceans and waterways requires vigilance, and staying informed is vital to that cause. Read up on the latest products that have been deemed harmful to the ocean or environment (like this recent study on why black plastic can't be recycled the same way as other plastics); keep an eye out for any environmental tragedy, like an oil spill or a tropical storm in your area that requires a cleanup; and be sure you're in the know about any organized rallies or fundraisers you can take part in.

14. Understand your carbon footprint.

Car exhaust emitting smoke.
iStock

Carbon dioxide isn't just responsible for pollution in the air—it also makes its way into the ocean. In fact, about a third of manmade CO2 makes its way into the ocean, which equates to about 22 million tons a day. This can cause acidification of the water, which affects the health of the marine life—especially shelled animals—that live there.

Taking stock of your own carbon footprint is important, and it becomes even more urgent when you think of the impact it has on everything. Climate change is all connected with one danger leading to another, leading to another, and so on. See how your energy habits can be more sustainable for the environment and make some much-needed adjustments. Simply driving less, buying energy efficient lights and appliances, and using fewer disposable goods can help.

15. Share what you know with friends and family.

Trash on the beach
iStock

Don't keep all this knowledge to yourself! Bring up some of the more important facts to friends and family next time you're at the beach or out at a seafood restaurant. Invite them to join you for a cleanup, and encourage them to be mindful of their own carbon footprint. Your enthusiasm for healthy oceans and environments could be contagious, and you may soon find yourself with a network of like-minded individuals looking to make a difference.

Eco-Friendly, Reusable Deodorant Containers Are Good for the Earth and Your Pits

Myro
Myro

A fair amount of plastic goes into keeping your armpits smelling fresh. Few of us recycle our empty deodorant tube after swiping on that last layer, after all. In many cases, it’s not even clear if you can, though there are a few special recycling programs that make it possible. But one company aims to make it easier to both smell clean and keep the planet clean.

Myro deodorant comes in refillable, reusable packaging, as Design Milk reports. The essential-oil-based deodorant comes in pods that you can pop into colorful reusable canisters. Created by the award-winning industrial designers at the New York studio Visibility, the fashionable containers are also made with 50 percent less plastic than most drugstore deodorant sticks, according to the company.

The deodorant sticks aren’t fundamentally different than something you might pick up at the drug store, even if they would look more at home on the shelves at Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie than CVS. You use a dial at the bottom of the tube to advance the deodorant stick, and when you reach the end of the deodorant, the pod that held the formula pops out. You can then refill it with one of Myro’s replacement pods. If your container needs a deep clean, you can stick it in the top rack of your dishwasher.

A red-orange deodorant canister next to a Myro refill pod
Myro

The deodorant itself doesn’t use the standard aluminum or baking powder formula, instead employing an antimicrobial agent made from sugar to reduce smells and barley powder to absorb moisture.

Myro deodorant comes in five different scents that you can mix and match with five different packaging colors. There’s Solar Flare, a mix of orange, juniper, and sunflower; Big Dipper, a blend of bergamot, lavender, and vetiver; Cabin No. 5, which smells like vetiver, patchouli, and geranium; Pillow Talk, made with violet leaf, ylang ylang, wild amyris; and Chill Wave, a blend of cucumber, jasmine, and spearmint.

One Myro deodorant, including the refillable container, costs $10 and can either be bought one at a time or through a subscription that ships refills every three, four, or six months. The refills can also be purchased one at a time. Customers that subscribe will receive free shipping, while one-time purchases will include a $5 shipping fee. You can pause your subscription or switch scents at any time.

Check it out here.

[h/t Design Milk]

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

These Grass Straws Are an Eco-Friendly Alternative to Plastic

Kickstarter
Kickstarter

We know plastic straws have created an incredibly serious environmental issue, and while many alternatives have been introduced, there are definitely some drawbacks to each of them. Paper straws, for example, tend to dissolve faster than you can finish your beverage. Some companies have tried to get around the issues paper and plastic straws present by introducing a special lid to sip cold beverages through. But they’re still made out of, well, plastic.

A Kickstarter campaign is offering a solution by producing sturdy grass straws that work perfectly in hot or cold drinks and decompose in just 15 days. With $3606 raised, the startup La Couleur Monochrome is still working toward a $27,877 goal, but you can back this project until January 31. For as little as $6, you can receive 100 straws in a reusable, eco-friendly zip-up bag, and the more expensive tiers offer bigger rewards.

The straws are made from hollow-stemmed grass that is grown and hand-harvested in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. After the grass is harvested, it is cut into 20-centimeter pieces and disinfected through a boiling process, rather than with harsh chemicals. Buyers have the option of selecting either dried-out straws, which can last for up to one year when stored at room temperature, or fresh straws, which can remain in the fridge for up to six weeks. According to the startup, both straws are suited for hot and cold drinks, but when using the fresh straws, you’ll get “a slight scent of fresh cut grass without changing the drink's taste.”

Grass straws
Kickstarter

If you’re worried about the environmental impact of harvesting the field, there’s no need. According to the campaign, the grass regenerates itself within a year. Currently, the startup is producing 1 million straws a month, but they hope to up it to 10 million by July 2020. Also beginning in July, the company plans to only send out orders once a month to create a more sustainable shipping program.

With so many large-scale changes that need to happen to help the environment, starting with a simple straw may seem inconsequential, but it’s not. Estimates have put the number of straws littering the world's coastlines at anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion.

If you want to visualize how much plastic humans have produced, it's equivalent to 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. And of all that plastic, only 9 percent has been recycled. At this pace, some have predicted that the amount of plastic in the ocean may outweigh the ocean's fish by 2050.

Cutting out straws is a great way to start reducing single-use products in your everyday life, and you can head here to find out more about the Kickstarter.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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