View of beverages and food items without plastic packaging in the Aquarium's Cafe

The Aquarium's beverage case is virtually plastic free, instead featuring drinks and snacks in reusable or recyclable, non-plastic containers.

Changing the Way We Think About Plastic

Let's face it: plastic is everywhere. We eat and drink from it, make clothes from it and buy products wrapped in it. Scientists estimate that around 9 million tons of plastic makes its way from land to sea every year. That's like dumping a garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute.

Even when we dispose of plastic properly, it can blow out of garbage and recycling cans or off hauling trucks to become pollution. Wind, storm drains and rivers can then carry it to the ocean, even from areas hundreds of miles inland.

The average American throws away 270 pounds of plastic every year, creating a stream of waste that can escape into the natural environment.

As that plastic pollution builds up — and breaks up — it's harming marine wildlife from turtles to seabirds. If we don't make changes, the rate of ocean plastic pollution could double in just six years.

Manufacturers are ramping up plastic production around the world, but our ability to recycle isn't keeping up. In fact, less than 10 percent of all plastic ever made has been recovered and turned into new products. Better waste management is an important part of the solution, but it's a bit like mopping a flooding bathroom while the faucet is still on full blast. We have to turn down the tap while we clean up the mess.

That's why the Aquarium is encouraging people to use less plastic in the first place. We're championing practices and policies to reduce plastic waste across the United States, California and our own backyard, collaborating with diverse partners and working from a foundation of science.

Beverages served without straws on a table overlooking Monterey Bay
As of Earth Day 2019, restaurants in Monterey are only permitted to offer plastic straws to those who say they need them.

The city of Monterey, among others across California, is leading the way to cut back on unnecessary disposable plastic. Over the past decade it has limited the use of polystyrene foam, plastic shopping bags and most recently — with the Aquarium's support — disposable plastic utensils, coffee cup lids and take-out containers. This new law, which took effect on Earth Day 2019, is cutting waste and helping protect Monterey Bay from plastic pollution.

Monterey's policy also eliminates plastic straws, with an important exemption for those who need them. For some people, a straw is assistive technology they depend on to eat and drink. That's why we reached out to advocates of people with disabilities, and worked together to shape an inclusive straw policy.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state's "Straws On Request" bill into law, requiring dine-in restaurants to provide straws only when customers ask for them. This reduces plastic waste throughout California while still ensuring access for those who need straws.

We helped get the bill over the finish line, endorsing it in Sacramento and inviting our supporters to speak up. Nearly 2,000 Aquarium visitors, members and social media followers urged their state legislators to support the bill.

When Gov. Brown approved Straws On Request, he issued a rare signing message (PDF) focused on the growing global production of plastic and its impacts on ocean health. "One thing is clear," he stated. "We must find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic products."

With momentum on our side, the Aquarium is now working with partners across the country to turn back the tide of plastic pollution.

Letter from California Gov. Jerry Brown, signing California's Straws On Request bill into law.
The ocean made an appearance in this letter from California Gov. Jerry Brown, as he signed California's Straws On Request bill into law.

In 2016, we co-founded the Aquarium Conservation Partnership, an alliance of 20 leading aquariums across the United States, to raise a collective voice for ocean and freshwater conservation.

First, partner aquariums eliminated single-use plastic straws and shopping bags from their operations, and committed to significantly reduce plastic beverage bottles, too. Collectively, we have removed 5 million plastic straws from the waste stream, and are working with our vendors to find sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging.

Our aquarium partners are now using their leverage with consumers, businesses and decision-makers to reduce common sources of plastic pollution where they live. Through the Aquarium Conservation Partnership's "First Step" campaign, more than 160,000 consumers have pledged to reduce their plastic use, starting with straws, and over 600 local businesses have joined aquariums in changing their practices. By raising our voices for ocean and freshwater conservation, aquariums are building nationwide momentum for change.

First Step campaign shown on a mobile device
The Aquarium Conservation Partnership's "First Step" campaign invited people and businesses to take simple actions to cut back on single-use plastic.

Join Us

With your help, we can make progress toward a plastic-free ocean.

Learn more about what you can do

Annual Review 2018 (PDF)

  • Credits
  • © Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation