Fighting for Trash Free Seas®

Ending the flow of trash at the source


Urban Ocean®

Building Clean, Healthy Cities for Clean, Healthy Seas

Imagine you’ve popped open a bottle of your favorite drink and torn open the wrapper of your favorite snack food. What do you do with the bottle and wrapper when you’re done? For a lot of people around the world, the answer is to put them “in the trash” (or the recycling bin), and eventually someone takes it somewhere—usually to a landfill or recycling facility. In that scenario, trash and plastic never reaches the ocean.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case everywhere; and major cities that lack trash collection and management systems end up becoming a major source of ocean plastic.

The good news is that they can also be a major part of the solution.

The Problem

Trash with Nowhere Else to Go

It is estimated that between 24 and 35 million metric tons of plastics entered aquatic ecosystems (both freshwater and marine environments) in 2020. Plastic pollution inputs into rivers, lakes and the ocean could increase to as much as 53 million metric tons annually by 2030 even if current reduction commitments are met. (SOURCE: Science) This is equivalent to about one cargo ship’s worth of plastics, by weight, entering aquatic ecosystems every single day. (SOURCE: Ocean Conservancy)

Reducing our reliance on single-use plastics and improving waste collection and recycling systems are both critical to keeping plastics out of our ocean. And while many cities are taking action, it’s often in isolation.


The Solution

Cities – Going from Source to Solution of Ocean Plastic

Cities generally have a leading role in building and running water, sanitation and waste management systems, so they are a natural partner to develop solutions in this area. Cities are also key actors in other areas critical for solving the marine plastic waste problem, including citizen education and awareness.

At the same time, cities have interconnected policy priorities that lead them to prioritize investments in waste management, including public health, economic growth, and job creation. A multi-pronged approach that embeds the reduction of marine plastic waste into other core city priorities, with a range of co-benefits or “resilience dividends,” offers the best chance of sustainable solutions.

Green Shores Astoria Shoreline Clean Up
© Mat Szwajkos / Aurora Photos

Through Urban Ocean®, Ocean Conservancy, the Global Resilient Cities Network, The Circulate Initiative, and the Trash Free Seas Alliance® will bring together civil society actors, leading academics, financial institutions, and private sector leaders to develop, share and scale solutions to the ocean plastic problem that cut across silos and achieve multiple benefits. Originally launched in March 2019 at the Economist World Ocean Summit and reimagined in 2020, the platform will allow for faster and more effective development and deployment of solutions, so that policies or systems that work in Seattle or Semarang or Santiago can be shared and adapted quickly elsewhere.


Specific programming will include three primary areas of action:

  • Partnership engagement to build appropriate public-private partnerships between cities, businesses, and financing organizations
  • Education, to encourage waste reduction and consumer recycling
  • Peer network and exchange, including sharing best practices and developing model policies

To demonstrate tangible solutions and progress, Urban Ocean will start with a maximum of 11 pilot cities, bringing in key partners and subject matter experts as appropriate for each city. The program will then be scaled up, adding new elements and learning from the original sites.

Current Cities

  • Vejle, Denmark
  • Pune, India
  • Semarang, Indonesia
  • Milan, Italy
  • Toyama, Japan
  • Melaka, Malaysia
  • Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  • Panama City, Panama
  • Can Tho, Vietnam
  • Chennai, India
Urban Oceans Map of cities


Explore How Cities Can Tackle Plastic Pollution

Urban Ocean Toolkit cover page

Urban Ocean City CAP reports
Led by University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute and Circularity Informatics Lab. As part of the Urban Ocean process, each Learning City conducts a Gap Assessment to map challenges, risk, and vulnerabilities within materials management systems and to develop an integrated picture of the materials and circular economy related challenges and opportunities faced by each city.

Urban Ocean Toolkit
Learn more about the rich body of information and tools to support Urban Ocean cities we have developed with this interactive toolkit. It is our hope that this will help additional communities build clean, healthy cities for clean, healthy seas.

Project Opportunities to Accelerate Clean, Healthy Cities and Seas
Review our Urban Ocean cities’ project plans after participating in the Circularity Assessment Protocol and Opportunity Assessment Tool developed by our partners the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute and the Resilient Cities Network.

Six Proven Tech Solutions to Prevent Ocean Plastic Pollution
Learn about innovative solutions cities can employ to prevent trash from ending up in the ocean.

Six Ways Cities Can Engage on Ghost Gear
Learn how cities can help address the issue of lost or abandoned fish gear in the ocean.

Five Criteria for Investment in Waste Management and Recycling Businesses
Learn how cities can evaluate investment opportunities in waste management and recycling.

Tips for Partnering with the Private Sector
Local industry and brand leaders can play a valuable and complementary role to accelerate action on plastic pollution, which is why the Urban Ocean program has created a check list for cities to consider before engaging with potential private sector partners.

Six Proven Levers for Behavior Change to Prevent Plastic Marine Debris
Understand the psychology and motivations that drive behavior and how you can build an effective strategy to change harmful habits.

Science-based Solutions to Macro- and Micro- Plastic in Municipal Waterways
Plastics are a threat to both human and environmental health. It is crucial that cities take an active role, using science-based solutions, to prevent and secure the health of its citizens and the surrounding natural environment. Dr. Chelsea Rochman has dedicated her career to understanding the impacts of macro- and micro- plastics and will be offering solutions to safeguard your city.

Developing Locally Appropriate Public Outreach Strategies to Reduce and Prevent Marine Debris
There are many ways to address marine debris, but first, we must prevent debris from entering our waterways. Therefore, it is key to ensure people understand the issue and how to contribute to the solution. Reflect on real-world examples of successful outreach strategies to address ocean plastic with a team of expert panelists.

Urban Ocean Circularity Assessment Findings
We are pleased to announce the release of Urban Ocean’s first city cohort’s Circularity Assessment Protocol (CAP) report findings! The CAP results allows participating cities to map challenges, risks, and vulnerabilities within their critical waste management systems.

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