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Ocean Plastics vs. Ocean-Bound Plastics. Understanding the differences.

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Plastic pollution has become a pressing global issue, particularly in our oceans. However, it is essential to differentiate between two terms often used interchangeably: ocean-bound and ocean plastics. This blog post will delve into the differences between these two categories, shedding light on their distinct characteristics and implications for our environment and our consumer purchases.

Ocean-Bound Plastics:

Most organisations see ocean-bound plastic as any plastic within 50km (30 miles) of the shore.

The term "ocean-bound" refers to the concept popularised by Jenna Jambeck, PhD, a professor from the University of Georgia. Dr Jambeck has extensively researched and advocated for reducing ocean plastic waste. "ocean-bound" refers explicitly to plastic waste at risk of entering the sea if not correctly managed.

So, it can be ANY plastic found on a factory floor or picked up on a kerb-side within 50 km of a beach. 50km, as I’m sure you will agree, is a long distance. As the name suggests, the plastic was not found on a beach at all.

By popularising the term "ocean-bound," Dr Jambeck aims to raise awareness about the need for effective waste management strategies and the importance of reducing plastic pollution. Of course, it is essential to highlight the importance of effectively recycling plastic materials; however, some believe it can be misinterpreted and could be a strategy for ‘greenwashing’ these plastics and giving them more eco-credentials than they deserve.

Several manufacturers and companies have jumped on this and created products utilising this ‘ocean-bound’ plastic. Mattel recently launched their latest Barbie Doll range made with 'Ocean bound plastics'. Consumers must know this plastic could have been scooped up off a factory floor and recycled as it should have been. I would argue all plastic is ‘ocean-bound’ and should be recycled and brought back into a circular system through recycling systems. This term enables more giant corporations to create “ocean-bound plastic’ ranges and greenwash their marketing with this confusing terminology. These same manufacturers are often also charging a premium for this product.

It's great that more mainstream manufacturers are utilising recycled materials. I celebrate this development, but using this 'Ocean bound' terminology confuses consumers. It makes it harder for us smaller manufacturers who are using real 'ocean plastic' material in their products. Ocean plastic is much harder to find, recover and recycle and therefore costs a lot more to manufacture than 'ocean-bound' plastic.

The primary sources of ocean-bound plastics are inadequate waste management systems, improper disposal practices, and the need for recycling infrastructure. These plastics often end up in waterways due to littering, wind, or inadequate waste collection and can eventually make their way into the ocean through rivers and other water channels. It's important that quality infrastructure is implemented in order to stem the flow of plastics into the oceans.

Yes, these plastics pose a significant threat to marine ecosystems and wildlife, as all plastics do. They can entangle marine animals, leading to injury or death. Additionally, plastics can break down into microplastics, which are tiny particles that can be ingested by marine organisms, potentially entering the food chain and causing long-term ecological consequences.

Efforts to tackle plastics involve implementing effective waste management systems, promoting recycling and reuse, and raising awareness about the importance of responsible plastic disposal. We can significantly reduce plastic pollution by preventing these plastics from reaching the ocean.

Many ‘third-world’ countries do not have the council recycling facilities we are accustomed to in the UK, so putting these facilities in place is essential. According to UN environmental programs, 'approximately seven billion tonnes of plastic waste has been generated globally so far, less than 10 per cent has been recycled'. All plastics should be recycled. All plastics are ultimately ‘Ocean bound’, but let's be clear ‘Ocean bound plastics’ are not found on a beach and are not Ocean Plastics.

They certainly do not require the efforts compared to finding plastics in hard-to-reach coastal locations, they are not on beaches full of sand and bio-waste, and they are not entangling sealife in the vast majority. They do not generally require the time-intensive processing that actual ‘Ocean plastics need.

Ocean Plastics:

Ocean plastics refer to plastic waste that has already entered the ocean and is floating or submerged in its waters or found on beaches and coves.

These plastics can originate from various sources, including ocean-bound plastics, littering from ships and coastal areas, and abandoned fishing nets, often called ‘ghost nets’.

Ecotribo's plastic is ‘ocean plastic’ found on UK shores by our beach cleaning crews and charities we work with. Our recycled plant pots and ocean plastic products are made from abandoned or lost fishing nets found around the British Isles. We track the nets’ journey from the sea to our workshop, transforming them into beautiful, functional eco-plant pots and sustainable products with purpose.

We clean and recycle all the plastic we find but focus on separating and recycling abandoned fishing nets (ghost nets) and transforming this material into our recycled ocean plastic products. This ocean plastic is direct action cleaning our coasts and supporting ocean-based charities to do more beach cleans and help coastal communities with outreach programs.

Ocean plastics are a significant concern due to their widespread distribution and persistence in marine environments. They can travel long distances through ocean currents, accumulating in large "garbage patches." The most well-known example is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between Hawaii and California.

Marine animals often mistake ocean plastics for food, leading to ingestion and potential entanglement. This can have severe consequences for their health and survival. Moreover, ocean plastics can disrupt marine ecosystems, alter habitats, and release harmful chemicals into the water, further exacerbating the ecological impact.

Addressing the issue of ocean plastics requires a multi-faceted approach. It involves reducing plastic consumption, improving waste management practices, promoting sustainable alternatives, and supporting initiatives focusing on cleaning and removing existing plastic debris from the oceans.

The history of ocean plastics dates back to the mid-20th century, when plastic production began to increase exponentially. Since then, the issue of plastic pollution in the oceans has become a global concern due to its detrimental impact on marine ecosystems, wildlife, and human health.

The production and consumption of plastic have skyrocketed over the years, with an estimated 380 million metric tons of plastic being produced annually. Unfortunately, a significant portion of this plastic waste is in the oceans through various means, such as improper waste management, littering, and inadequate recycling infrastructure.

Current statistics on ocean plastics are alarming. It is estimated that over 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the world's oceans, weighing approximately 250,000 metric tons. It is estimated that 640 000 tons of fishing nets are manufactured annually.

The impact of ocean plastics on marine life is devastating. Marine animals often mistake plastic debris for food, leading to ingestion and entanglement, which can result in injury or death. Additionally, the breakdown of more oversized plastic items into microplastics poses a threat to smaller marine organisms and can enter the food chain, potentially affecting human health.

Efforts to address the issue of ocean plastics have gained momentum in recent years. International organisations, governments, and NGOs are working towards implementing policies and initiatives to reduce plastic waste, improve waste management systems, and promote recycling and circular economy practices. Awareness campaigns and clean-up initiatives are also being conducted to remove existing plastic debris from the oceans. We are proud to work with Clean Ocean Sailing, Plastic@Bay and the Captain Paul Watson Foundation (Previously Sea Shepherd UK)

While progress is being made, the challenge of ocean plastics remains significant. It requires a collective effort from individuals, industries, and governments worldwide to reduce plastic consumption, improve waste management infrastructure, and promote sustainable alternatives to plastic. By taking action, we can mitigate ocean plastics' impact and protect our oceans' health and integrity for future generations.


While both ocean-bound plastics and ocean plastics contribute to the global plastic pollution crisis, they differ in location and stage of entry into the marine environment. Ocean-bound plastics are plastic waste at risk of entering the ocean and are often found up to 50 km from the sea, while ocean plastics have already entered and are present in the ocean.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for effectively developing targeted strategies to combat plastic pollution and make consumer decisions. We can work towards a cleaner and healthier marine ecosystem for future generations by preventing plastic waste from becoming ocean-bound and removing existing ocean plastics. Our collective responsibility is to take action and protect our oceans from the detrimental effects of plastic pollution.


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