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What is land-based debris?

trash in overflowing trash cans

When people dispose of trash in overflowing trash cans, it can blow into nearby waterways (Credit: NOAA).

Most marine debris comes from activities on land and eventually enters the ocean and Great Lakes. This land-based marine debris comes from littering everyday trash, whether on purpose or by accident, and dumping items in waterways.

Wind and rain can blow waste out of trash cans and move street litter to new areas. Even if an item is dropped far from the water, trash can be carried into the marine environment through stormwater that flows into streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean and Great Lakes.

In 2016, scientists estimate that as much as 23 million metric tons of plastic waste entered the ocean and waterways from land. That accounts for more than 10% of all the plastic waste generated that year!

Each community has different options for waste disposal. Sometimes there may be limited resources for effectively disposing of and collecting trash. Mistakes or accidents in disposal, like spills on trash collection day or plastic bags blowing off of uncovered trucks or landfills, can lead to marine debris. In some communities where options for collecting and disposing of trash are limited or not available, large amounts of marine debris can enter the environment due to dumping or a lack of waste management options.

Debris along the Goat Canyon Basin of the Tijuana River in San Diego, California

Debris along the Goat Canyon Basin of the Tijuana River in San Diego, California (Credit: Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve).