What is Ocean-Bound Plastic?

Everything You Need to Know About Ocean-Bound Plastic

Though it’s called Earth, most of our planet is made up of water. In fact, our oceans cover 70% of the planet and are responsible for producing 50% of the world’s oxygen and providing homes to hundreds of thousands of marine species.[1] But despite their significance, our oceans are suffering, with overfishing, climate change and pollution leading to the depletion of 90% of big fish populations and the destruction of 50% of all coral reefs over the last 60 years. 

With World Oceans Day on June 8th (and summer days of swimming, surfing, and snorkeling following close behind) there’s never been a better time to come together to understand how we can protect and preserve one of our planet’s most vital resources.

There are many ways we can get involved, from participating in beach cleanups to ensuring that you're recycling everything you can properly. In this article, we’ll focus in particular on how utilizing recycled ocean-bound plastics, as we do at ZenWTR, can improve the health of our oceans, our marine wildlife, and even ourselves.

What is Ocean-Bound Plastic?

Ocean-bound plastic is plastic waste that’s located in coastal environments within 50 kilometers (30 miles) of an ocean shoreline or a waterway that leads to an ocean. Ocean-bound plastic describes plastic waste that has been discarded and has not yet made its way to our oceans, found in coastal communities where formal waste management is non-existent or mismanaged. In these areas, commonly-used plastic items, including bottles, milk jugs, take-out containers, and plastic bags, often end up littering their shorelines, earning them the term “ocean-bound plastics.”

While not yet in the ocean, these plastics are likely to be carried to the water through:

  • Rain
  • Wind
  • Tides
  • River flow
  • Animals
  • Floods

Where Does the Term “Ocean-Bound Plastic” Originate?

The term “ocean-bound plastic” is credited to Dr. Jenna Jambeck, a professor from the University of Georgia. She tracked various types of discarded waste to uncover where our garbage ends up after we throw it away. What she found was surprising; although the majority of waste is not destined for the ocean, a significant portion ends up there.

This is because when major cities and population centers were first built, they stayed close to bodies of water. This allowed for more efficient trade, better agricultural development, and easier access to food. Now, the world’s coastlines are home to roughly two billion people who  discard their plastic waste near the ocean (or bodies of water that lead to the ocean).[2] This proximity increases the likelihood that improperly recycled or mismanaged plastic waste will end up polluting our oceans.

Types of Ocean-Bound Plastic

Ocean-bound plastics are often broken down into two sub-categories—waterway ocean-bound plastic and shoreline ocean-bound plastic.

  • Waterway Ocean-bound Plastic – Waterway ocean-bound plastic refers to plastic waste found in a river or within 200 meters of a river stream. (However, plastic waste found farther than 50 kilometers from the seashore can still travel along with the flow of a river and be carried out to the ocean.)
  • Shoreline Ocean-bound Plastic – Shoreline ocean-bound plastic refers to plastic waste found within 200 meters from the highest tide line toward land and 100 meters from the lowest tide line toward the sea.

Why Should We Care About Ocean-Bound Plastic?

If the plastic isn’t in the ocean, we have less to worry about, right?

Not exactly.

While ocean-bound plastic hasn’t become ocean plastic yet, the issue is that it will. If we hope to reach the goal of plastic-free oceans, we have to stop the flow of plastics into the ocean at the source—the land. In fact, if we don’t take immediate action, scientists predict that the amount of plastic in our oceans will triple by 2040.[3] (Currently, approximately 10 million metric tons of plastic waste enter our ocean every year.[4] If we allow this estimate to triple, we may end up with more plastic than sea.)

So why not start with ocean plastic instead of ocean-bound plastic?

Over 80% of plastic in the ocean originates from the land.[5] By preventing plastic from reaching the ocean (one way is by recycling ocean-bound plastic) we can reduce that percentage of future ocean plastic pollution. This not only means protecting hundreds of thousands of marine species from becoming endangered—it also means protecting ourselves from ocean pollutants.  

Additionally, with so much plastic waste entering our ocean each year, only 1% of marine litter floats, leaving the rest to sink to the ocean floor. This makes ocean plastic a lot more difficult to clean up than ocean-bound plastic.  

The Dangers of Ocean Plastic

When plastic enters the ocean, the sunlight and salty water break the plastic down into microplastics—fragments of plastic less than 5 millimeters (or .2 inches) in length.[6]

Despite their microscopic size, these microplastics create a huge issue. Not only can microplastics become ingested by marine wildlife, but they can also enter the tissues of these marine animals. That means the seafood we eat likely contains the same manufactured chemicals found within plastic, including phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and flame retardants.

According to one study,[7] human exposure to these chemicals can: 

  • Reduce male fertility
  • Damage nervous systems
  • Increase the risk of cancer

Even if you don’t consume fish or other types of seafood, microplastics may nevertheless make their way into your life through your drinking water, as standard water treatment facilities are unable to remove all traces of microplastics.[8]

Microplastics aren’t the only plastic that are nearly impossible to remove from ocean water. When plastic waste from the fishing industry and on-the-go plastics like straws and bags enter the water from the shore, they’re dispersed across the vast expanse of our oceans and may even sink below the surface. In fact, an estimated 70% of ocean pollution falls to the seafloor, making it unlikely ever to be recovered.[9]

This results in plastic waste that’s:

  • Difficult to find and collect
  • Degraded by exposure to salt and light

If these plastics are collected, they are able to be recycled. However, their degraded quality makes cleaning and sorting them challenging and costly and limits their recycled end-uses. Often, plastic materials collected from the ocean are recycled into items such as bracelets or shampoo bottles.

How Does Reducing and Recycling Ocean-Bound Plastic Help Our Oceans and Global Coastal Communities?

To help protect our oceans from becoming overrun with plastic waste, we have to reduce the prevalence of ocean-bound plastic. Currently, 31.9 million metric tons of waste generated within coastal communities is mismanaged. Due to their location, this mismanaged waste is more likely to end up in our oceans.[10]

You can help these coastal communities from where you live by purchasing products made from recycled ocean-bound plastics. These ocean-bound plastics are typically collected from developing countries such as Haiti, Lagos, and Indonesia. By choosing products made from recycled ocean-bound plastic over products made from virgin plastic, you help:

  • Prevent plastic from polluting the ocean
  • Restore local fisheries
  • Incentivize coastal regions to create a more efficient collection and recycling programs
  • Increase employment opportunities
  • Raise demand for products made from recycled ocean-bound plastic, which helps create new recycling economies

Supporting Sustainable Brands

In addition to supporting ZenWTR, you can also support other sustainable brands that utilize ocean-bound plastics within their products to help reduce plastic waste and save our oceans.

Some of our favorite sustainable brands include:

  • Volcom – Whether you’re making a splash or hanging ten, Volcom understands the importance of keeping our oceans free of plastic. This skate, surf, and swimwear company has partnered with Repreve to create shirts, pants, and swim trunks made from recycled, ocean-bound plastic.
  • EcoGear – EcoGear combines sustainability with functionality by creating high-quality bags and backpacks constructed with recycled, ocean-bound plastic fibers.
  • ChicoBag – Another advocate for recycled, ocean-bound plastics, ChicoBag has developed a line of reusable shopping bags made with Repreve fabric to protect our oceans and reduce our reliance on plastic bags.

For Sustainability that Knows No Bounds, Choose Ocean-Bound Plastic   

Just as we depend on our oceans for oxygen, food, and unforgettable summer activities, our oceans depend on us to protect them from the dangers of plastic pollution. And with rising levels of ocean plastic, our oceans need our help now more than ever.

Celebrate this upcoming World Oceans Day by learning about the recycling practices in your area and choosing to purchase products made of recycled, ocean-bound plastics, like ZenWTR. Not only does ZenWTR keep you hydrated with ultra-pure alkaline water, but we also work to preserve our oceans with bottles made from 100% recycled, certifiec ocean-bound plastic.

Every ZenWTR bottle you purchase keeps up to five plastic bottles out of the ocean. That means while you’re helping yourself to the refreshing taste of ZenWTR, you’re also helping our oceans stay healthy and plastic-free.


[1] United Nations. The Ocean: Life and livelihoods. https://www.un.org/en/observances/oceans-day

[2] Sustainable Brands. What Is Ocean-Bound Plastic? And Does It Really Matter? https://sustainablebrands.com/read/chemistry-materials-packaging/what-is-ocean-bound-plastic-and-should-it-be-our-focus

[3] Ocean Cycle

[4] National Library of Medicine. Human Health and Ocean Pollution. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33354517/

[5] National Library of Medicine. Human Health and Ocean Pollution. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33354517/

[6] National Geographic. Microplastics. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/microplastics/

[7] National Library of Medicine. Human Health and Ocean Pollution. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33354517/

[8] National Geographic. Microplastics. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/microplastics/

[9] UN Environment Programme. Marine litter: trash that kills. https://www.unep.org/resources/report/marine-litter-trash-kills 

[10] Sustainable Brands. What Is Ocean-Bound Plastic? And Does It Really Matter? https://sustainablebrands.com/read/chemistry-materials-packaging/what-is-ocean-bound-plastic-and-should-it-be-our-focus 

Additional Sources