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Let's Work to Minimize Marine Debris in Massachusetts

To ensure we can continue to enjoy our state’s beaches and shorelines for generations to come, we must be vigilant in decreasing and removing marine debris whenever possible.

Did you know that Massachusetts is home to 1,500 miles of coastline? We are lucky to live in a state that is home to many beautiful beaches and shorelines—not to mention lakes, rivers, and ponds!

To ensure we can continue to enjoy this part of our state for many generations to come, we must be vigilant in decreasing and removing marine debris whenever possible.

What is marine debris?

Marine debris is defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as, “any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment.”

The most common ways this debris can end up in our waterways is by littering or dumping, or by by falling off a boat or ship. Often, debris and litter are washed out to sea via storm drains, rivers, or streams. Along its journey, debris will often end up along the shorelines as well. Types of debris are plentiful, but plastic bags, fishing gear and lines, bottle caps, plastic straws, food wrappers, and beverage containers are some of the common repeat offenders.

How does marine debris affect our environment?

Marine debris negatively affects all aspects of our environment, from fish, birds, marine mammals, to humans, and the ecosystem itself. Animals that call our waters home can be choked, starved, or poisoned when they mistake debris for food. They can also become entangled in nets, bags, ropes, and other trash. Entangled animals (including endangered whale species) often die a slow and painful death from entanglements. 

Debris can also pose a threat to us humans! Beachgoers may hurt themselves while walking along the shore if they step on glass, wood, or metal debris. Out on the water, boaters can get their propellers stuck or jammed on large pieces of debris or fishing line floating in the water.

What can we do to help?

To help tackle the issue of marine debris, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) encourages residents to follow these tips:


  • Participate in a COASTSWEEP Cleanup. Since 1987, thousands of volunteers have removed hundreds of tons of trash through CZM’s annual COASTSWEEP cleanup. These events happen each August through November. Follow the link to learn more about a cleanup happening this season near you. If you don’t see one listed, you can organize your own event!
  • Don't overfill trash or recycling bins at the beach. Overflowing trash and recycling bins can create a huge mess in windy conditions. Try to practice a personal "carry in-carry out" policy when visiting a beach or coastal park. 
  • Keep litter and trash away from storm drains. This one is simple—don’t be a litterbug! Always dispose of your trash or recycling in appropriate waste management receptacles. If you’re visiting a beach, lake, or river, avoid single-use plastic if possible and be sure to give your area a clean sweep before leaving.
  • Purchase products with eco-friendly packaging. To avoid creating trash or recycling altogether, aim to purchase products with minimal packaging, or packaging that can be recycled. Check out this list of zero-waste stores in our state.
  • Recycle items when possible. Not sure what is recyclable or not? Check out this smart guide!
  • Ensure that your yard is trash-free. Your yard is an area that can be a breeding ground for marine debris, as items can easily be swept up by the wind and end up in storm drains or local waterways. Make sure your yard is trash-free to avoid unintentionally contributing to marine debris!
  • Securely cover your trash cans. While you’re checking on your yard, make sure your trash cans and recycling bins are securely covered.
  • Carefully stow trash when boating. If you own or charter a boat this summer season, make sure you are carefully stowing trash in a secured trash bin. It is all too easy for one gust of wind or a bumpy ride to send some trash overboard into our waters.
  • Teach others about marine debris and encourage them to take action too. Now that you have made it to the end of this article, copy the link and share it with your friends!