Most Common Types Of Waste Found In Oceans & On Beaches

There’s a significant amount of waste and rubbish found both in oceans and on beaches/coast lines each year.

This guide identifies some of the most common types of rubbish found in these locations.

It is a complimentary guide to this one that outlines the most common plastic waste found in oceans, on beaches and on land.


Summary – Common Waste & Rubbish/Debris Found On Beaches & In Oceans

Plastic (bags, bottles, caps/lids, packaging and wrappers, cutlery etc.) and cigarettes by far seem to be the most common rubbish found on beaches.

Single use disposable plastic in general is one of the most common types of waste found on beaches. Foam can be another material (foam cups and take out containers)

According to some estimates, plastic makes up about 75% of all marine debris (debris that is found on beaches and in oceans).

Most of the plastic waste found in oceans comes from land based sources (about 80%) vs marine based sources (about 20%).

Plastics can be categorised broadly as big pieces of macro plastic, or small particles of micro and nano plastics (that result from the break down of bigger pieces of plastic).

Fishing gear and equipment (nets, fishing line etc.) other types of plastic waste and debris can be found in oceans.

There’s also more toxic types of waste that gets dumped into the ocean, or leaches or finds it’s way there – including but not limited to fertlizers, pesticides, dredged material, industrial waste, sewage sludge, and radioactive waste.

Dredging contributes about 80% of all waste dumped into the ocean. About 20-22% of dredged material is dumped into the ocean … [and] About 10% of all dredged material is polluted with heavy metals (


Most Common Types Of Waste Found In Oceans

The type of waste found in the ocean can differ depending on the part of the ocean – more heavily fished parts of the ocean for example may include more marine based waste.

But, in general, about 70% of total waste is land based (comes from a land based source as opposed to marine based), and plastic is a common material found in the ocean.


Fishing gear, industrial material, washed off plastic and land origin garbage are commonly found in oceans

The most common plastic littering objects (in the US) in order are (refer to the full article for quantities) food wrappers/containers, plastic bottle caps, beverage bottles, bags, straws and stirrers, plastic lids, utensils, cigarette butts, foam take out containers, plastic take out containers, cigar tips, foam coups and plates, tobacco packaging, balloons, other plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, personal care products, 6 pack holders, diapers



Much of the plastic in the ocean today comes directly from sources on land, often reaching the ocean as runoff that moves improperly discarded trash from land to river and finally, the ocean

… over a quarter of the plastic waste that goes into the ocean every year likely comes from the runoff of just ten rivers.

These ten rivers, eight of which are in Asia and two in Africa, are located adjacent to large cities where hundreds of millions of people live

… to minimise ocean rubbish, we can reduce our waste, remove existing waste from the ocean and beaches, re-use and recycle, as well as continue to research and develop alternatives to plastic and the most common waste types, and better waste management and processing systems


Read more about plastic types, and rubbish found in oceans (and where it comes from) at 


[Specifically in regards to plastic waste found in oceans, around 70-80% comes from land based sources, and 20-30% from marine based sources (like fishing vessels), but in some parts of the ocean, such as where intensive fishing takes place, marine based sources of plastic waste can be far more significant]



About 80% of the debris in the garbage patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia.

A majority of the most commonly found pieces of garbage floating in our oceans include items that we use on a daily basis and think nothing of it. These include:

1. Plastic Bottles

Plastic Bags


Food Wrappers

Plastic Utensils


Beverage Cans

8. Paper Bags (and Styrofoam cups)



Most Common Types Of Waste Found On Beaches

In 2018, Ocean Conservancy reported (from a beach pick up volunteer event):

For the first time ever of the 33-year history, the top-10 most commonly found items on beaches around the world were all made of plastic

Cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, plastic grocery bags, other plastic bags, straws and stirrers, plastic takeout containers, plastic lids, and foam take out containers were the top types of rubbish found



During the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers kept tally of the trash they found the most on beaches (they also kept number/quantity records too). The top ten were (in order of quantity found):



Plastic Beverage Bottles

Plastic Bags

Food Wrappers/Containers

Cups, Plates, Forks, Knives, Spoons

Glass Beverage Bottles

Straws, Stirrers

Beverage Cans

Paper Bags



Single use disposable plastic is the most common waste found on beaches

The three R’s can help reduce plastic waste … 

Reduce the amount of disposable plastic you use. That’s anything you use once and throw away. Just use less.

Reuse disposable plastics when possible. A plastic bottle makes a great coin piggy bank or watering can.  The possibilities are endless. 

Recycle anything that can be recycled, so it stays out of landfills, where trash can blow away.



A recent 4Ocean volunteer clean up of Siesta Key Beach, Florida, returned the following numbers of waste found:

144 Straws

187 Pieces of cutlery

234 Plastic & Styrofoam Cups

355 Plastic Bags

463 Plastic Bottles

1,346 Caps

5,877 Cigarette Butts!

*Numbers taken from 4Ocean’s Facebook Page on 27th February, 2019


Marine Debris In General

Marine debris, including plastics, paper, wood, metal and other manufactured materials is found on beaches worldwide and at all depths of the ocean.

About 60%-80% of all marine debris is composed of plastic [with specific estimates putting that number at around 75%) …

[The top marine debris found in cleanups over the last 25 years are:]

Cigarettes and filters 32%, Food wrappers and containers 9%, Caps and lids 8%, Tableware 6%, Plastic beverage bottles 6%, Plastic bags 5%, 



Other Types Of Waste/Debris, Pollution & Runoff Found In The Ocean

We talk about hard debris that gets found on beaches and in the ocean, but what is not often talked about is the chemicals and uncommon but highly damaging and toxic types of waste:

[Pollution from land runoff that gets into rivers and runs into the ocean e.g. fertilizers and pesticides from farming/agriculture]

Illegal dumping of industrial, nuclear and other waste into oceans [in some parts of the world]

The most toxic waste material dumped into the ocean includes dredged material, industrial waste, sewage sludge, and radioactive waste.

Dredging contributes about 80% of all waste dumped into the ocean …

About 20-22% of dredged material is dumped into the ocean …

About 10% of all dredged material is polluted with heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury, and chromium, hydrocarbons such as heavy oils, nutrients including phosphorus and nitrogen, and organochlorines from pesticides …

Read more about industrial waste, sewage sludge, radioactive waste, ocean dumping, runoff and pollution, and other ocean related issues with waste and pollution at 


Further information on some of the lesser known marine debris and toxic waste can be found at –












10. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Plastic Pollution”. Published online at Retrieved from: ‘’ [Online Resource]




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