Macrophages specialize in removing lipids and debris present in the atherosclerotic plaque. However, plaque progression renders macrophages unable to degrade exogenous atherogenic material and endogenous cargo including dysfunctional proteins and organelles. Here we show that a decline in the autophagy-lysosome system contributes to this as evidenced by a derangement in key autophagy markers in both mouse and human atherosclerotic plaques. By augmenting macrophage TFEB, the master transcriptional regulator of autophagy-lysosomal biogenesis, we can reverse the autophagy dysfunction of plaques, enhance aggrephagy of p62-enriched protein aggregates and blunt macrophage apoptosis and pro-inflammatory IL-1β levels, leading to reduced atherosclerosis. In order to harness this degradative response therapeutically, we also describe a natural sugar called trehalose as an inducer of macrophage autophagy-lysosomal biogenesis and show trehalose’s ability to recapitulate the atheroprotective properties of macrophage TFEB overexpression. Our data support this practical method of enhancing the degradative capacity of macrophages as a therapy for atherosclerotic vascular disease. © The Author(s) 2017.