Who is responsible for plastic in the ocean?

Recent research shows that several countries from Asia are the top sources contributing to plastic bottles, bags and other rubbish clogging up global sea lanes. These plastics are not only detrimental to marine health, but also pose health risks to humans.

In 2010, a whopping 8.8 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste came from China. An estimated 3.53 million metric tons of it sadly ended up in the ocean. 

Meanwhile, 3.2 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste came from Indonesia, where 1.29 million metric tons reportedly turned into marine litter.

All in all, China and Indonesia make up a total of a third of the world’s entire plastic pollutants. 

However, we should note that Asia is not the sole continent to blame. The US is also guilty of polluting the oceans with plastic, but at a much lower rate compared to China. Every year, 0.11 million metric tons of plastic garbage floating in our waters comes from the United States.

The top 5 countries polluting the oceans

  1. China
  2. Indonesia
  3. Philippines
  4. Vietnam
  5. Sri Lanka

Source : The Wall Street Journal, 2015

Where does plastic in the ocean come from?

A high percentage of plastic garbage in the ocean comes from just 10 rivers.

  1. The Yangtze 6.The Ganges
  2. The Indus 7. Pearl River
  3. Yellow River 8. Amur River
  4. Hai River 9. The Niger
  5. The Nile 10. Mekong

All these rivers run through majorly residential areas. In fact, some of these rivers are located where hundreds of millions of people live. 

However, their common denominator is not having an adequate waste collection program nor recycling infrastructure. Information dissemination about plastic pollution in these areas needs some work, too.

  How do you identify hard plastic?

Public awareness is also bleak, that people do not see plastic trash that much of a problem at all. This kind of thinking makes it easy for them to just throw all their garbage into the river and watch them conveniently disappear downstream. 

From the latest statistics, at least 8.3 billion tons of plastic in the world gets discarded and eventually ends up in our oceans. 

What country is responsible for the most plastic waste in the ocean?

Our individual efforts alone cannot fully stop the 8 million tonnes of plastic inevitably making their way to the oceans each year. With four of the five oceans polluted in Southeast Asia, the regional governments must start taking drastic measures to address the worsening problem.

According to a report by the Environmental Campaigners Ocean Conservancy, ASEAN members Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand are among the five countries throwing the most plastic waste into oceans. 

  • China is found to be the worst offender, as 60 percent of the debris comes from China and the four ASEAN nations.
  • Thailand accumulates around 2 million tonnes of plastic waste, of which about a measly 25% gets recycled. The rest of their rubbish goes to incineration or landfill, where about 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes leak into the ocean.

Common questions about who is responsible for plastic in the ocean

Which countries are responsible for plastic pollution?

Several studies show that China and Indonesia are the biggest contributors to plastic pollution. These wastes include plastic bags, packaging materials, and other plastic products. The worst thing about their plastic contribution is the reality that most of their rubbish are being thrown to the oceans, posing hazards to the global marine ecosystem.

  Can a straw be recycled?

Which country is plastic free?

To this day, this remains to be just another wishful thinking. While India has long been exerting efforts to completely eradicate the use of plastic in their country, it is still a far-fetched idea and would most likely take decades before they achieve it.

How can we get rid of plastic in the ocean?

The best way to get rid of plastic in the ocean is to completely put an end to plastic products. There is just too much plastic in our waters that it is almost impossible to filter them. To address the problem, we have to take a proactive resolution to switch to more sustainable products and keep looking for greener alternatives to plastic.

Despite environmentalists presenting initiatives and some major retailers actually cutting back on plastic bags, there is still a very long way to go before we can win over plastic pollution. The problem has become a worldwide phenomenon, and would take a worldwide effort to solve.

The world is collectively trying to find ways to collect that trash in the sea using modern technology. However, the problem has blown up to something unimaginable, which may need a hundred years to fully subside.

The overall consensus is that using less plastic, or at least to trap the trash at the source, would be much better than filtering it out afterwards.


We have to rethink how we are doing it all. It is important to consider our footprint! Susan has been writing on this blog since 2020, but it has been on her mind for a lot longer!

Recent Posts