Jim McMahon

Marine life is in danger all over the world. Why? Plastic litter is clogging Earth’s oceans—from the icy Arctic to the tropical Pacific. Each year, an estimated 8 million tons of discarded plastic bags, straws, cups, bottles, and other products end up in the ocean, where they can harm and even kill fish and other animals. Some, like this turtle in the Mediterranean Sea, get trapped in plastic netting; others ingest pieces of plastic or even microscopic particles—called microplastics—that form when chemical pollutants react with salt water and sunlight.

But the world is starting to take action to curb plastic pollution. In November, Boston’s city council approved a plastic bag ban, joining several other U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago. In September, Seattle passed a ban on plastic straws and utensils. And China and Taiwan are among the nations that have enacted nationwide bans on plastic bags.

What can you do to help? “Individual actions make a big difference,” says Jenna Jambeck, an environmental science professor at the University of Georgia. “Simple things like reusable water bottles, mugs, and bags really cut down on waste.”