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If you go to the beach and see some trash washed ashore, it’s highly possible that they didn’t come from the coastal area. They might have come from cities or countries overseas, been floating on the surface before being washed by the waves.

Our ocean is full of trash. Not just plastic packaging, marine debris also widely consists of fish nets, rusty iron, or other proof of human civilization. So where did they come from? 

We often see marine debris washed ashore at the coast. (Source: dokumen Tim EcoRanger)

Marine debris comes from many different sources and enters the ocean in many ways. Intentional littering and dumping are a big cause of marine debris. Sometimes the trash goes directly into the ocean, like when beachgoers don’t pick up after themselves. Most of the time, they come from the cities overseas. When someone litters on the street or parking lot, rainwater can move the trash into storm drains that empty into streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. Or, the wind can blow it there. Those rivers and streams can eventually carry the trash to the ocean.

Another big cause is improper or careless waste disposal. Various landfills in Indonesia are almost full, and they aren’t the practical solution for waste disposal. Garbage from various sources are just thrown away and being pied over and over again, without proper management. In the long run, they would reach maximum capacity and won’t be able to contain any more waste. Overflowing waste in landfills may find its way into the ocean.

Around the world, many people don’t have access to proper waste disposal or recycling – but the trash keeps piling up, and it has to go somewhere. If it doesn’t end at the landfill, most likely it’ll go to the ocean, where it’s far from sight.

It’s not just here on land – marine debris comes from activities out on the water, too. People on boats sometimes throw their trash overboard. Or, trash can accidentally fall, blow, or wash off of vessels into the water. Sometimes it can come unintentionally from the beach too. Maybe you play on the shore with big waves. Without realizing it, you came out of the water without your flippers. That said, your flippers are already in the middle of the water. That flippers will stay in the water for years, being washed away or drifted in the nearest beach, or end up in some water mammal’s stomach. Fishers might lose their fishing gear thanks to storms or passing vessels, too.

Sampah plastik di laut akan mencemari air dan biotanya. (Sumber: Naja Bertold Jensen/Unsplash)

Once the debris gets to the ocean, it is very difficult to trace the exact source. Plastic packages may have some information about where they were made, but it’s impossible to know whether they come from households, landfill, beaches, or directly thrown away in the ocean.

The bottom line is, marine debris comes from us. Humans are the source, and every single person has the power – and the responsibility – to prevent it. Consequently, we should turn off the tap. We can do small things like using reusable bags, shopping at bulk stores, composting, or using menstrual pads. Like the saying goes, we don’t need a small number of people doing sustainable consumption and production perfectly; we need hundreds doing it imperfectly.

Greeneration Foundation is supporting the prevention of marine debris coming from waterways through the program Citarum Repair, by solving the garbage problem in Citarum River and helping educate residents around Citarum regarding plastic, river waste and marine debris. 

Written by: Melisa Qonita Ramadhiani


Ocean Today. (n.d.). Where Does Marine Debris Come From? Retrieved from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: https://oceantoday.noaa.gov/trashtalk_wheredoesmarinedebriscomefrom/

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