6 Most Common Marine Litter Items

When we go boating, we get hungry and thirsty, and of course we’re going to bring food and drink containers. But it’s what we do with the waste after we’re done that matters.

Most common marine pollution items

Marine pollution is a very unfortunate result of not just boating, but also beach enjoyment. Littering has a devastating effect on marine wildlife, and unfortunately there seems to be no end in sight. However, we can all be responsible boaters and not throw our trash where it doesn’t belong. 

Marine animals can mistake shiny plastic for food, and the harm it causes to these creatures and the environment they inhabit can be deadly. With that in mind, here are the most common items of marine pollution and what you can do to help.

Buy a boat grill

Buy boat grill carrying case

Cigarette Butts

Statistics vary, so we’re not including any here, but cigarette butts always top the lists of the most common forms of marine litter. Millions of cigarette butts are found in the ocean each year. And it’s not just from people smoking on boats and flicking the butts off the deck. 

Marine pollution cigarette butts

Cigarette butts can travel through gutters when it rains and find their way into waterways, so even flicking the butts on the sidewalk or street can be a problem. They're made of a plastic-like non-biodegradable material, and they’re toxic to marine life. Sea creatures and birds can confuse butts for food and ingest them, with potentially lethal results.  

What You Can Do: It’s not our place to tell you to quit smoking. However, if you do smoke on a boat or anywhere else, don’t flick your butts. Instead, place them in an ash tray or unlit in a trash bin. You can also buy a pocket ashtray, which can be a metal tin or a vinyl pouch. 

Marine pollution cigarettes portable ashtray

Travel ashtrays usually fit in your pocket or carrying bag, and contain and extinguish cigarettes until the butts can properly be disposed of. If you don’t have a portable ashtray, place your butts in a bottle with water in it and dispose of them properly once you get off the beach or boat. 

Food Wrappers / Containers

Whether you’re docking at waterfront restaurants or packing your own lunch on a boating trip, you’re likely going to have some food wrappers and containers to throw out.

Marine pollution food wrappers

However, these wrappers and containers are usually made of plastic, Styrofoam or aluminum foil that’s not bio-degradable. They’ll sit at the bottom of sea floors or float, waiting for some poor animal to pick at and potentially choke on them.

What You Can Do: Fold up plastic wrappers and aluminum foil, and put them in your cooler or carrying bag until you can take them to a trash or recycling bin. Even if the wrapper or container is made of biodegradable material like paper or cardboard, take it off the boat or beach and dispose of it properly.  

Beverage Bottles and Cans

Drink bottles, particularly of the plastic kind, are on every list we looked at like this one of top marine pollution items. But it’s not just plastic bottles. Glass bottles and aluminum cans are also top offenders. 

Ocean pollution bottles and cans

Plastic drink containers are (you guessed it) not biodegradable, and can take an immeasurable amount of time to break down. Aluminum cans are no better, especially since they have serrated edges that can cut marine wildlife. The same goes for broken glass bottles.

What You Can Do: Instead of bringing disposable bottles and cans, buy a reusable drink container like a tumbler or thermos. These containers are not only great for boating trips, but can be brought just about anywhere and be reused for anything from camping to working at the office. If you bring single-use containers on a boat or a beach, stick them back in the cooler when they’re empty, and dispose of them in a trash or recycling bin when you leave. 

Bottle Caps

With beverage bottles comes bottle cap waste. Bottle caps can be easily swallowed by marine wildlife, big or small. They can jam airways or wreak havoc on a sea creature’s digestive system

Ocean pollution bottle caps

What You Can Do: The same thing you can do about the bottles they’re found on: avoid them altogether by bringing along a reusable beverage container. Otherwise, don’t chuck them in the water or leave them in the sand and (once again) dispose of them properly.

Plastic Bags

Many countries have banned single-use plastic bags, especially because millions of them are found in waterways year after year. Plastic bags are especially hazardous to marine life. 

Ocean pollution plastic bags

Sea mammals and turtles in particular mistake them for food, get tangled up in them, get them lodged in their mouths and digestive tracts, or simply choke on them. 

What You Can Do: Instead of plastic bags, bring a reusable bag with you to the boat and beach. If you do bring plastic bags, tie them down securely while you’re using them, as plastic bags are notorious for easily flying off on windy days. But really, just don’t bring them.

Plastic Utensils

Eating on a boat not only comes with the waste of food wrappers, but also the waste of the plastic utensils used to consume those meals. Grilling and eating on a boat is fun, but don’t bring plastic utensils onboard.

Marine pollution plastic utensils

And by utensils we mean not only plastic cutlery like forks, spoons and knives, but also cups and plates as well. Sure, plastic cutlery is convenient, and it’s probably what you’ll get if you order food from a waterfront restaurant. But non-biodegradable plastic utensils, in particular knives and forks, can cut marine wildlife. 

What You Can Do: Buy a reusable set of travel cutlery that comes with a carrying case to bring along on boat rides. Look for the kind made of bamboo or other non-plastic materials. As for cups, what we said about reusable drink containers applies here too.

Plastic Straws / Stirrers

Let’s be honest, nobody likes paper straws. Halfway through your drink, paper straws start to get soggy, making it harder to sip and enjoy your drink. 

Marine pollution plastic straws

However, biodegradable paper straws exist for a reason, and they’re becoming more common in restaurants that are doing away with plastic straws altogether. Why? You guessed it: plastic straws are one of the most common items of marine pollution.

What You Can Do: Drink without a straw. And if you must have a straw, carry a reusable bamboo or metal straw. Some tumblers even come with their own reusable straw, so keep plastic straws and stirrers off the beach and the boat.

Other Ways You Can Help Reduce Marine Pollution

Sadly, marine pollution is unlikely to ever go away. But in addition to what’s been covered, there are other small things you can do to help reduce ocean pollution. 

Marine pollution ocean cleanup

For starters, join a local beach or marine cleanup crew, or organize your own. You can easily put together a group on Facebook or other social media platform and organize weekly and/or monthly cleanup events. Get your kids involved too if you have them, so they can learn from an early age not to litter.

Stick to the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. Reduce your plastic use, buy reusable materials, and recycle whatever you can. Plastic bottles and caps in particular can be reused and/or recycled for any number of things, from art projects to planters.

Marine pollution how you can help

Finally, if you’re on a beach and the public trash receptacle is overflowing, don’t stuff it with more garbage. Overflow trash can easily fall out or get blown away in the wind, so take your garbage to another receptacle or bring it with you and dispose of it at home. 



Why Boats.net?

Commercial Discounts

Special discounts for companies in the marine industry


Government Sales

Discounts for federal and most state and municipal agencies