The ocean is teeming with exotic fish, large mammals, microscopic plankton – and plastic. Lots and lots of plastic. Researchers estimate some 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the ocean, and it’s only growing.

As plastic debris rides the tides, fish are gobbling it up like fish food. Since there is so much plastic, it stands to reason that they’d consume some on accident. But the fish that seem to digest the most plastic are fairly smart and picky eaters to boot, so why are they nibbling on a toxic buffet of plastic?

Plastic gets disguised

Fish aren’t getting midnight cravings for plastic, they’re actually being tricked, according to researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

When plastic floats around the ocean, algae typically hitch a ride. To algae, a piece of hard, smooth plastic floating in the sun is like riding in a BMW. It’s a luxurious mode of transportation.

As the algae and plastic travel the seas together, the plastic starts to smell a lot like algae. That scent, which researchers say is similar to rotting seaweed, is a tempting treat to fish that use odor sensors to track and find food.

Fish assume they’re about to nab their favorite oceanic treat, but instead get a mouth full of algae-soaked plastic. For some fish, consuming too much plastic is deadly.

Possible changes to help fish

Researchers say there is a few ways to limit the amount of plastic fish eat. For instance, plastic manufacturers could use more biodegradable materials so the lifespan of plastic is drastically cut.

Right now, Columbia University estimates that it takes 20 years for plastic bags to decompose, 450 years for plastic bottles and 600 years for fishing line.

Another solution? Manufacturers could alter the surface of plastic so it’s not as inviting to algae.

Of course, manufacturers aren’t the only ones tasked with making improvements. If everyone cut his or her plastic consumption down, it could reduce the amount that makes its way to the ocean.

Curbing your plastic consumption

Many consumers are making small changes to reduce their plastic use. Taking reusable bags to the grocery store, filling a reusable water bottle or repurposing plastic food containers are all small commitments that consumers can make.

But you can do more. You can reuse and refill bottles of your favorite products that come in plastic containers too, like laundry detergent, mouthwash or shampoo.

Retailers can install small refill stations that give consumers the power to refill bottles themselves. Consumers simply place the bottle in the machine, select the product they want refilled, and the machine washes, fills and seals the bottle.

When your laundry detergent runs out, you don’t have to buy a whole new bottle – you can just refill it.

While refill machines exist, retailers haven’t installed them because they’re not convinced that consumers will use them. It’s time to send a message to retailers.

Tell your local retailer that you’re ready to refill rather than see more plastic go into the ocean and harm marine life.  Sign the petition below to join the #WeWantRefill movement to curb plastic consumption.