The situation should alarm you.
Each year, 18 billion pounds of plastic flow into our ocean, according to a National Geographic report. The effects have been massive, with scientists reporting at least 700 marine species facing serious difficulties due to plastic pollution.
Just read this story about sea turtles eating plastic bags. It’s shocking. Everyone must take note of what’s happening.
The situation extends beyond the oceans. Plastic waste plagues our world’s most important and biodiverse land regions, from the Himalayas in Nepal to national parks in South Africa. Plastic pollution is killing fish and wildlife in the Amazon, for instance.
Although plastic made a lot of modern life possible, especially when manufacturing of the material took off post-World War 2, plastic waste now poses one of the greatest threats to the world. More than 40% of plastic is used just once, and the waste has choked our waterways and environment. If we don’t do something, the consequences could drown us.
So, you may be asking yourself: How do we stop plastic pollution?
Well, while we can’t halt the production and use of plastic overnight, we can actually stop plastic pollution (or at least reduce it). As experts note, it’s “the management of plastic waste that determines the risk of plastic entering the ocean.”
In short, you can make a difference by taking action. If you’re looking for ways to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans and on our land, know you can do your part as a volunteer for the environment.
In this guide, we’ll cover all you can do to stop plastic pollution, from beach and ocean cleanups to environmental research and wildlife conservation. Read on!
How to stop plastic pollution as a volunteer
Want to know how to stop plastic pollution?
Volunteer abroad in regions greatly affected by plastic waste. Going where your help is most needed ensures you can make the biggest impact. Destinations include biologically diverse coastal areas, rainforests, and urban areas that suffer from high pollution.
You have many ways to reduce plastic pollution as a volunteer for the environment. For example, you could:
- Assist with ocean cleanups
- Example: Want to know how to stop plastic pollution in the ocean? Via Volunteers, a leader in ethical volunteering in South Africa, runs a project off the coast of Cape Town that involves sailing to do thorough ocean cleanups as well as beach cleanups. This initiative protects local turtles, whales, dolphins, seals, and other marine species.
- Volunteer for beach cleanups
- Example: Protect the 5,000 acres of Montgo National Park through GoEco’s coastal conservation program in Denia, Spain. Through beach cleanups and educational workshops for the local community, you can reduce plastic pollution.
- Join wildlife conservation efforts
- Help with recycling initiatives
- As mentioned above, if you want to stop plastic pollution, better management of plastic waste is a necessary first step. Projects like Globalteer’s Clean Water initiative in Cambodia work to better manage waste and ensure communities in need can negate the impact of pollution, especially from plastics and other contaminants. Globalteer is a UK charity committed to helping communities better manage their resources, which includes better management of waste.
- Clean up important forests
- Example: Through Fronteering, a volunteer travel organization that provides off-the-beaten-path experiences, you can volunteer in the Amazon in Guyana, and work to keep the precious environment clean and free of contaminants (especially plastic!).
As you can see, you have many ways to reduce plastic pollution as a volunteer for the environment. When choosing a program, consider your skills, interests, and budget. By choosing a suitable project, you can make a difference and stop plastic pollution!
Note: For most of the volunteer abroad programs listed here, your participation includes 24/7 support, airport pickup, orientation, accommodation, and some meals. Check with each individual program for full details as well as program requirements. And prepare accordingly.
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Want to volunteer abroad in Latin America? Then put Maximo Nivel at the top of your list. Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel is a leading provider of service programs in the region. They work directly with projects and run locally-based institutes in Costa Rica, Peru, and Guatemala. They’re committed to providing life-changing experiences and the chance to make a positive difference. No wonder volunteers give them so many 5-star ratings on Volunteer Forever.
Looking for ways to reduce plastic pollution and environmental damage in Latin America? Maximo Nivel runs conservation programs to protect the beautiful rainforests and beaches. Learn more below!
Price: $645 for 1 week; $1,255 for 4 weeks
Journey to the Amazon, where you’ll participate in a rainforest conservation initiative designed to preserve the lungs of our planet. Your main task will be to assist with reforestation efforts by planting trees and removing non-native species. You’ll also monitor animals, perform cleanups, and do educational outreach. The impact of human industry, agriculture, and dumping of trash on the Amazon has been devastating. As a volunteer, you can help turn the tides.
This project gives you the wonderful opportunity to protect the Amazon rainforest, learn about the people who live there, and enjoy one of the world’s most beautiful settings. Dive right in!
Volunteer for the Environment in Peru
Price: $695 for 1 week; $1,495 for 4 weeks
Want to know how to stop plastic pollution? Protect the most diverse natural environments! As a beach conservation volunteer in Costa Rica, you’ll work on the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific Coast. Your main duty will consist of trail and beach maintenance. That means clearing out invasive plants, collecting research data, and doing beach cleanups (removal of trash, plastic, etc). You’ll also educate locals and tourists on how to care for the amazing landscape.
When you’re not doing beach and ocean cleanup work, enjoy the beaches, take a yoga class, go cave spelunking at Barra Honda National Park, and more. Ready for an epic excursion?
Volunteer for the Environment in Costa Rica
Founded in 2009, Love Volunteers has become popular for their affordability, transparency, and commitment to doing good in local communities. They aim to connect travelers to life-changing, intercultural volunteer experiences. Love Volunteers earns a 96% rating from past volunteers—a testament to their quality of work.
If you want to volunteer for the environment through ocean and beach cleanups and recycling initiatives, Love Volunteers has plenty of choices. Read below!
Price: $1,439 for 2 weeks; $2,759 for 6 weeks
Work on essential marine conservation projects in Jamaica and educate others on best ecological practices. As a volunteer, you’ll also participate in ocean and beach cleanups, removing trash, plastic, and other debris. Your help goes a long way in preserving Jamaica’s beautiful yet fragile ecosystem, which faces the dangers of natural disasters, climate change, and human development.
When you’re not doing beach cleanups or other tasks, have fun! Take a stroll around Mandeville, a historic town high in the hills. Visit Kingston, the bustling capital. And play on the beaches.
Learn More Here
Price: $1,099 for 3 weeks; $2,099 for 6 weeks
Make the trip to Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed city known for its colorful colonial buildings and beautiful seaside location. As an urban conservation volunteer, you’ll raise awareness of recycling practices and establish programs to better manage waste and improve the local environment. Activities include beach cleanups, community garden initiatives, and educational workshops for children. You can also run arts and crafts workshops where you and locals can make art with recycled plastic. How awesome is that?
If you want to know how to stop plastic pollution, know it begins where you live. This program proves that. Are you up to the challenge?
Discover More Here
Projects Abroad began in 1992 and has placed more than 125,000 volunteers abroad. They’re known for their excellent support, wide variety of program types, and focus on making a real impact. A truly exceptional organization, Projects Abroad has earned recognition in publications like Time, BBC, and CNBC.
As one of the most trusted volunteer abroad program providers, Projects Abroad runs incredible projects throughout the world, including wildlife conservation efforts and beach and ocean cleanups in amazing destinations. Stop plastic pollution by volunteering with Projects Abroad!
Price: $3,700 for 2 weeks; $4,660 for 4 weeks
Imagine walking along forest trails, looking for lemurs in their native habitat. That’s what you can do in this program. As a conservation volunteer in Madagascar, you’ll research lemurs and other wildlife. In addition to collecting scientific data, you’ll join efforts to keep them safe. That means removing rubbish and plastic from the environment, as well as hosting community workshops on sustainable living. By doing so, you’ll help protect a very important rainforest and the wonderful animals that live there, including lemurs!
Throughout the wildlife conservation program, soak in the beauty of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, a rainforest reserve known for its rich biodiversity. Already dreaming of Madagascar?
Price: $2,600 for 2 weeks; $3,260 for 4 weeks
Trek to the rooftop of the world! There, you’ll protect the animals and environment of the Himalayas in the Annapurna Conservation Area. Wildlife and environmental research duties include setting up cameras for monitoring, identifying animal species, and teaching local communities about protecting the ecosystem. Along with the community, you’ll perform regular rubbish cleanups as well.
Ready to stop plastic pollution in the Himalayas? Prepare to be amazed by the beauty!
Volunteer for the Environment in Nepal
Around since 1998, Global Vision International adheres to the highest ethical standards of volunteering. All GVI’s programs advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty (1), Clean Water and Sanitation (6), and Protect the Planet (13). To meet these goals, GVI partners with renowned organizations such as Panthera and the World Wildlife Fund.
If you want to volunteer for the environment and stop plastic pollution, definitely check out GVI’s programs. From beach and ocean cleanups to rainforest conservation, you have ample options.
Price: from $911 to $1,242 per week (get cheaper per week the longer you stay)
If you want to learn how to stop plastic pollution in the ocean, first master scuba diving! In this program, you’ll earn your qualifications for PADI Advanced Open Water diving and PADI Coral Reef Research diving. As a marine conservation volunteer in Seychelles, you’ll dive into the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean every day. You’ll collect important data on the coral reef and fish, as well as assist with the development of environmental education programs. You’ll also participate in large-scale marine plastic pollution cleanups and surveys.
Ready to stop plastic pollution in the ocean? Then join this program! Your home base will be in pristine Baie Ternay Marine National Park. How great is that?
Sign up Here
Price: from $4,980 per week
Assist with marine conservation initiatives in Fiji as you learn about the threats corals face with climate change. You’ll work on Caqalai island, and help local institutions and NGOs develop strategies to protect marine resources. A primary responsibility is marine data collection, which you can do after earning your PADI Coral Research Diver specialty. You’ll also partake in beach cleanups to remove plastic and trash. While diving, you’ll also do ocean cleanups.
During free time, immerse yourself in the Fijian way of life and island-hop across the country. Sounds like fun, right? Ready to dive to stop plastic pollution?
Recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization in 2018 by GoAbroad, GoEco specializes in affordable, ethical community and conservation projects around the world. Founded in 2006, GoEco has placed more than 17,000 volunteers in programs abroad. They even were awarded the Top Eco-Enthusiast award in 2017 by Greenmatch.
When it comes to volunteering to stop plastic pollution, few organizations have the quality of projects GoEco does. You can participate in beach cleanups, recycling initiatives, marine and wildlife conservation programs, and more.
Price: $950 for 2 weeks; $1,990 for 6 weeks
Volunteer to stop plastic pollution in the Red Sea! During this marine conservation program in Israel, you can become PADI-certified as you work to protect Eilat’s Coral Reef Nature Reserve. Tasks include removing invasive algae from buoys, doing beach cleanups, and protecting no-swim zones. Your work will have a huge impact on reducing water pollution and enabling the coral reef to thrive.
During non-volunteer hours, explore nearby Tel Aviv, a city with a happening nightlife, bustling markets like Carmel Market, and gorgeous green space such as Yarkon Park. Ready to go?
Stop Plastic Pollution in Israel’s Coral Reefs
Price: $1,690 for 2 weeks; $3,900 for 6 weeks
Rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles on the immaculate island of Naifaru. Learn from marine biologists as you care for injured turtles. Duties include cleaning the turtles, feeding them, and participating in educational workshops for local children. As you volunteer for the environment and turtles in the Maldives, you’ll have the opportunity to stop plastic pollution through regular beach cleanups.
During free time, snorkeling trips, beach-bumming, and sampling local cuisine await. Is a trip to paradise calling your name?
Stop Plastic Pollution in the Maldives
As one of the world’s most trusted volunteer abroad organizations, International Volunteer HQ has sent nearly 110,000 service workers abroad. Featured in publications like the Los Angeles Times and National Geographic, IVHQ has placed volunteers from renowned institutions and universities, such as Microsoft and UCLA.
When you volunteer abroad with IVHQ, you can be certain your work will have a positive impact. If you want to serve as a beach or ocean cleanup volunteer, IVHQ has plenty of great programs across the world (read below).
Price: $530 for 1 week; $1,770 for 4 weeks
Head to the wonderful city of Auckland, and help preserve the area’s stunning landscapes, beaches, and islands. By doing so, you’ll help restore important parts of traditional Māori land. Duties include collecting harmful litter, which is mostly plastic bottles and bags, from estuaries, harbors, and inlets. You can also help with projects that upcycle ocean plastics into art murals for classrooms. How cool is that?
When you’re not serving as a coast and ocean cleanup volunteer, explore Auckland, a city filled with lots of culture and amazing natural sites (hike Rangitoto Island!).
Click to Apply
Price: $260 for one week; $690 for four weeks
Looking for ways to reduce plastic pollution in the Philippines? Consider IVHQ’s program in Palawan. As a volunteer for the environment, you’ll focus on mangrove rehabilitation. Mangroves protect shorelines, prevent erosion by stabilizing sediments, and filter pollutants (which maintains water quality). Your responsibilities include cleaning up rubbish and plastic in mangrove areas, educating locals about the dangers of litter, and replanting mangroves.
When you’re not working on mangrove and ocean cleanup, enjoy Palawan. The island boasts magnificent beaches and night entertainment.
Price: $905 for 1 week; $2,615 for 4 weeks
Want to assist with ocean cleanup in the Mediterranean? Work with dedicated conservationists in Split, a vibrant coastal hub. There, you’ll use your scuba diving skills to remove plastic and human debris from the waters. Don’t know how to dive? Don’t worry. As an ocean cleanup volunteer with IVHQ, you’ll complete the internationally recognized SSI (Scuba Schools International) diving certification.
During free time, have fun in Split. Check out Diocletian’s Palace, the Roman emperor’s ancient palace. And relax on Bacvice Beach. Ready to go?
Sign up Here
How to stop plastic pollution as you travel
Of course, you may worry about your environmental footprint as you travel. In addition to serving as a volunteer for the environment, you have ways to reduce plastic pollution, including:
- Bringing a reusable cup or mug: Don’t use a plastic cup or straw if it’s not necessary. Bring your own water and coffee container.
- Avoid plastic bottles: We use one million plastic bottles per minute, with roughly 90% not being recycled. Whenever you can, use glass, paper, or whatever else is biodegradable. For instance, instead of a shampoo bottle, pack a shampoo bar in cloth.
- Use reusable bags: Say no to plastic bags! There are plenty of good alternatives.
- Avoid products with plastic microbeads: Unfortunately, a lot of toothpaste, facial cleansers, body washes, and shampoos have plastic microbeads. And that plastic ends up in our waters. Avoid personal care products with such ingredients.
- Clean up wherever you go: On top of participating in beach and ocean clean ups, you can make a point to pick up plastic trash and other rubbish wherever you go. It may not seem like the biggest thing, but it adds up!
- Support smarter policy: It goes without saying, but public policy has the greatest potential to stop plastic pollution. Support such initiatives when you can!
You can also spread the word. The more people know, the less likely they are to use plastics. After all, consumers drive the world (for better or worse). If we collectively say no to plastic products, businesses will produce healthier alternatives.
You can be part of the solution to stopping plastic pollution
To stop plastic pollution, we not only need preventive measures, but also solutions to address the current crisis. As a volunteer, you can help in a variety of ways, from ocean and beach cleanups to developing better waste management strategies. In doing so, you can help turn the tides and get the world moving in the right direction.
When looking through volunteer abroad programs for stopping plastic pollution, consider your budget and interests, as well as how you feel you can best improve the situation. Whether that be assisting with beach cleanups in Goa, India, or preserving the rainforest in Peru, your efforts can stop plastic pollution and save the planet.
Good luck on your travels!
Nick Callos · Writer
With a BA in English Literature & Writing from Boston College, Nick researches and writes about volunteer, intern, and teach abroad programs worldwide. He has studied abroad and taught English in Chengdu, China, and aims to help fellow travelers make a lasting impact on the communities they visit.