NOAA

Our Campaigns

Wildlife Over Waste

GOAL: Spare birds, fish and other wildlife from the harm caused by needless plastic pollution by banning take-out plastic foam cups and containers.
Every day, people are throwing away tons of single-use cups, containers and other plastic “stuff.” Among the worst forms of plastic pollution is polystyrene foam (the stuff most of us call Styrofoam), which never fully degrades. Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our oceans and rivers and threaten wildlife for centuries. That’s why we're educating the public about this issue and calling for solutions, like bans on take-out foam cups and containers.
  • <h4>PLASTIC POLLUTION HARMS WILDLIFE</h4><h5>It’s easy for a bird, fish or turtle to mistake small pieces of plastic for food—especially when there are millions of pieces of it floating in our waters, forming enormous garbage patches in our oceans.</h5><em>Chris Moody / Shutterstock</em>
  • <h4>POLLUTION THAT LASTS FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS</h4><h5>Polystyrene foam breaks apart easily, but it persists in the environment in tiny particles—and every bit of it ever made is still out there and could continue to threaten wildlife for hundreds of years to come.</h5><em>wk1003mike / Shutterstock</em>
  • <h4>CITIES, COMPANIES ARE TAKING ACTION</h4><h5>From Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, plastic foam bans have passed in more than 200 cities and other communities. McDonald’s will phase out foam cups and containers worldwide by the end of this year.</h5><em>Portland, Maine / Jeff Gunn</em>
A costly mistake

For a bird or fish or turtle, it’s easy to mistake a small piece of plastic for food—especially when there are millions of pieces of plastic floating in our rivers and, ultimately, our oceans.   

Scientists have found plastic fragments in literally hundreds of species, including 86 percent of all sea turtle species, 44 percent of all seabird species, and 43 percent of all marine mammal species. Ingesting these fragments is often fatal. When animals ingest plastic waste, it can block their digestive tracts. As a result, they starve. Toxic chemicals in plastic can harm animals’ health—and people can ingest these chemicals as they make their way up the food chain.

polystyrene cup in graphic - Dan Century / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr
Pollution that lasts for hundreds of years

Scientists are still documenting the scope of plastic pollution and investigating its effects. But for decades we’ve known that one of the worst forms of plastic pollution is polystyrene foam, the kind used in foam cups and take-out containers, what most of us call Styrofoam.

Polystyrene foam breaks apart easily, but it persists in the environment in tiny particles—and every bit of it ever made is still out there and could continue to threaten wildlife for hundreds of years to come.

Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our rivers and oceans for hundreds of years—especially when we don’t really need it. That’s why we're calling for solutions, like bans on take-out foam cups and containers.

Moving beyond plastic pollution

Of course, there are plastics companies that don’t like this idea. Earlier this year, their opposition helped block a bill banning plastic foam containers in California.

But across the country, plastic foam bans have passed in more than 200 cities and other communities, from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine. Some companies are also getting with the program. By the end of this year, McDonald’s will phase out foam cups and containers worldwide, in favor of 100 percent recycled materials.