Guess Who’s Responsible for the Most Plastic in the Ocean

The world is increasingly concerned about the amount of plastic in the ocean, particularly now that we know thereís more plastic hiding below the surface than we realized. When it comes to which countries are contributing most to this ecological nightmare, however, you might be surprised to see some of your top suspects absent from the list. Major air polluters like the United States, India and Brazil are ďrichĒ in both plastic and coastal land, but somehow arenít the most responsible this time. Actually, all five of the top offenders are in Asia:

  • Vietnam
  • China
  • Indonesia
  • The Philippines
  • Thailand

Collectively, these five nations are responsible for an estimated 60 percent of the plastic waste that winds up in the ocean.

Itís not difficult to determine the factors that play into this abundance of plastic litter. For starters, these countriesí economies are on the rise. As more people have a standard of living that allows them to spend more, they inevitably start buying consumer goods, complete with plenty of plastic packaging.

Why, then, isnít the Western world, which has long tore through plastic products, contributing as much to this particular problem? Because countries like the United States have more advanced sanitation systems in place. Meanwhile, the Asian countries, suddenly overwhelmed with more trash than in the past, donít have the means to dispose of their garbage Ė including the plastic Ė in a responsible manner.

Throughout the five aforementioned countries, just 40 percent of garbage is disposed of appropriately and put into secure landfills. The majority of it is tossed haphazardly into makeshift dumps that communities create in lieu of actual sanitation services. From here, it is easy for the plastic to blow away in the wind and land in waterways.

Whatís worse is that plenty of these dumps are purposely created adjacent to rivers. The idea is that, especially when it rains, some of the trash washes away out to the ocean, removing it permanently from the community. Itís not really a solution so much as a way of pushing the problem somewhere else, but for towns that donít know what to do with their growing collections of trash and might not be aware of the environmental crisis they are creating, you could see why this plan might seem ďsmartĒ to them.

Itís important that we donít underestimate the damage thatís occurring. Scientists believe that about eight million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year. Thatís equivalent to a garbage truck full of plastic getting dumped into the ocean every minute. At this rate, combined with the overfishing epidemic similarly ruining the ocean, scientists are predicting that the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh all of the fish in the ocean within the next 35 years.

At that point, this massive ecosystem could very well be irrevocably broken. What good is an ocean where youíre more likely to encounter a plastic bag than a fish? Regardless of which countries are most responsible for this problem, itís clear that we all must take accountability over this issue in order to protect the oceans. That means not only ensuring our own plastic is being recycled or disposed properly, but also assisting other countries with a surplus of trash in improving their own sanitation systems.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Christine J.
Christine J1 years ago

I am not in the least surprised that all countries are Asian. You are being far too charitable when you explain their actions as being caused by the rapid rise in their economies, causing them to be suddenly overwhelmed with trash. That is not the case. I was in Thailand 28 years ago and the beaches were littered with disgusting trash even way back then. I don't mean the odd wrapper dropped by a lazy tourist. I mean huge amounts of garbage that you could see being washed ashore. They've had plenty of time to stop it.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Mark Donner
Mark Donner1 years ago

Asian countries are simply greedy planet destroyers. They don't even care if they themselves and their children all die in a massive suicide, as long as they get their stomachs filled right now. What a disgusting group of people.

Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

So sad there are no stricter legislation to control these countries from polluting more than they have already; or to educate children and people in general :(

Kristin Love
Kristin Love2 years ago

how friggin' depressing is this....?????
"At this rate, combined with the overfishing epidemic similarly ruining the ocean, scientists are predicting that the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh all of the fish in the ocean within the next 35 years."
i live in seattle where we've banned plastic bags but we are a vast minority, i wish the "Leaders" of this Fragile Planet would wake UP, we are ALL going to have NO World to live in soon......

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

They are also responsible for most of the pollution!

Elisabeth Hansson
Elisabeth H2 years ago

Nasty. I try to recycle. tyfs

Sharon Davidson
Sharon Davidson2 years ago


Ilona V.
Ilona V2 years ago

“Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”

― Cree Indian Prophecy

Elizabeth O.
Elizabeth O2 years ago

Thanks for the article.