August 4, 2017

Senate Clears Bipartisan Bill to Address Marine Debris Crisis

Washington, DC – Today, the Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation to address the marine debris epidemic affecting America’s oceans, shorelines, and inland waterways, as well as other coasts across the globe.  The bill, which was introduced in March by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), would boost the federal government’s domestic and international response to the millions of tons of plastic and other waste that litter our shores, threaten ecosystems, and disrupt commerce.  It would also foster cooperation between the United States and other nations to confront the crisis worldwide.

“Over the course of years and decades, marine debris deposited in the ocean half a world away inevitably finds its way to our coastal communities and ecosystems.  Alaska, in particular, feels the brunt of this crisis with its extensive coastline,” said Senator Sullivan. “I’m heartened that Senators from coastal and landlocked states alike – from both parties – have come together to support the Save Our Seas Act, which is now one step closer to becoming law.  I encourage my colleagues in the House to move swiftly, so that we can reauthorize NOAA’s vital Marine Debris Program and enact other measures to clean up our oceans.”

“Plastic garbage and other junk crowding our oceans and shores is more than an eyesore.  It’s a threat to vital ocean and coastal ecosystems and our economy,” said Senator Whitehouse, a Co-Chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus.  “This bill tackles the marine debris crisis along American coasts.  It will also push us to work with other countries on limiting the plastics and other harmful materials that find their way to the ocean.  That includes working on an international agreement to stop the flow of trash from land into the ocean, and, if trash does get to the ocean, supporting research into new materials that break down in a way that won’t wreak havoc in our seas.  Thank you to Senators Sullivan, Booker, and all the bipartisan cosponsors for helping to see this bill through.”

“This is an important step forward in the fight to clean up our oceans and protect our coastlines from harmful marine debris. The sheer tonnage of plastic and other waste found in our oceans today is overwhelming, but if we work together with state and local governments, as well as other nations, we can make significant progress,” said Senator Booker.

Every year, roughly eight million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste from land enters the oceans.  It then breaks down into tiny pieces that can enter the marine food web and harm fish and wildlife, and wash ashore on even the most remote beaches.  Last year, volunteers for Save The Bay’s annual beach cleanup removed more than 151,000 pieces of trash weighing nearly 15,000 pounds from Rhode Island shores alone. 

The Save our Seas (SOS) Act will help confront the marine debris crisis by:

  • Allowing the NOAA Administrator to declare severe marine debris events and authorize funds to assist with cleanup and response.  The Governor of the affected state may request the NOAA Administrator make this declaration.
  • Reauthorizing NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through FY2022.  Its mission is to conduct research on the source of marine debris and take action to prevent and clean up marine debris.
  • Encouraging the Executive Branch – led by the U.S. State Department – to engage with the leaders of nations responsible for the majority of marine debris, support research into ocean biodegradable plastics, examine the causes of ocean debris, develop effective prevention and mitigation strategies, and quantify the economic benefits for treaty nations in addressing the crisis. 

Whitehouse, Sullivan, and Booker were among 20 Senate cosponsors of the bill.  The bill now goes to the House for consideration, where the House Oceans Caucus Co-Chairs have introduced companion language.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921