Reducing Plastic to Protect Our Ocean: Eco-Diplomacy in Action

Earth's oceans are essential to life -– generating oxygen, absorbing excess atmospheric carbon dioxide, and providing food and livelihoods. Yet the oceans are under siege from climate change and plastic waste. From floating "islands" of garbage to bleached coral reefs to entangled fish, turtles, and sea birds, the images are grim. We can change this, but both climate change and marine debris can only be mitigated through action onshore by all of us. One key way is to reduce, reuse, and recycle -– especially when it comes to plastics.

Recycling plastic not only helps ensure that it does not end up in the ocean, but also helps to reduce emissions. Making goods with recycled plastic can reduce carbon emissions by displacing the need for new materials. You can also save energy: according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recycling one plastic bottle is equivalent to powering your laptop for 2.5 hours.

In light of Secretary Kerry’s Our Ocean priorities, the U.S Department of State is taking strides to reduce plastic use where appropriate and ensure plastics are disposed of properly. The Department headquarters’ recent America Recycles Day event, for example, collected over 560 plastic bags and 176 pounds of e-waste and accessories from employees.

Around the world, many embassies and consulates are also leading the way in reducing, reusing, and recycling. The U.S. embassies in Abu Dhabi and Phnom Penh, for example, installed water fountains with water bottle filling stations to reduce the use of disposable plastic bottles. The stations are equipped with a monitor that counts the quantity of avoided single-use bottles.In Abu Dhabi, these fountains also save the Embassy money by reducing the need to order plastic 5-gallon water jugs. In Hong Kong, the U.S. consulate formed a partnership with a social enterprise, Hong Kong Recycles, to collect all plastic, glass, and paper waste at U.S. government-owned residences. 

In addition dozens of U.S. embassies and consulates participate in regular beach clean-ups with community partners, creating educational opportunities and even inviting artists to re-imagine the found waste. Plastic bottles have even been used to build schools, such as in 2013, when Embassy San Salvador helped with a “bottle school” in Candelaria, El Salvador. Several U.S. embassies and consulates are even finding ways to undertake recycling when there is no public or private recycling industry where they operate.

Through these local efforts the State Department is demonstrating our commitment to protecting the environment, including our oceans. Help protect our ocean by joining embassies and consulates in reducing, reusing, and recycling your plastic. Learn more about how embassies and consulates are supporting sustainable cities by visiting and the Eco-Capitals Forum website.

About the Author: Emily Bailey serves as a virtual intern in the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information:

  • Read other DipNote blogs on protecting our oceans and the environment.
  • Learn more about the State Department's support of the annual Our Ocean conference.  
Plastic bottles lie among other debris washed ashore on the Indian Ocean beach in Uswetakeiyawa, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Posted by Emily Bailey
April 6, 2016


Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more