December 17, 2020

Whitehouse Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Finance Global Marine Debris Prevention and Reduction

New trust fund would complement Save Our Seas Act and Save Our Seas 2.0

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced legislation that would bring the international community together to address the alarming amount of plastic and trash polluting our oceans and marine environments. The Unify Nations in Trash Elimination (UNITE) for our Oceans Act would direct the U.S. government to work with international partners to finance promising projects that promote the sustainable use of materials and the reduction of plastic and other waste filling the world’s oceans.

“If we don’t find answers fast, we’ll have more tons of plastic waste in our oceans than living fish by the middle of the century. Solving that problem requires work with other nations on new international solutions,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I’m excited that Senators Graham and Coons, and my ocean plastics partner Senator Sullivan, have joined together to introduce this bipartisan bill to combat a massive challenge facing our oceans.”

The Unify Nations in Trash Elimination (UNITE) for our Oceans Act would:

  • Direct the Secretary of State to work with U.S. federal agencies, individual countries, and international organizations to establish a Trust Fund for Marine Debris and Plastic Pollution. The goal of the Trust Fund is to prevent and reduce marine debris and plastic pollution and facilitate the sustainable production and consumption of resources. The Trust Fund would be managed by a Board of Trustees, comprised of representatives of the countries that contribute.
  • Specify that the Trust Fund will award grants to national and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and other entities to complete projects that would reduce marine debris and plastic pollution. These projects include efforts to reduce the amount of trash and plastics entering marine environments, encourage the use of sustainable materials, reduce the use and improper disposal of single-use plastics, and promote reduction, reuse, and recycling of materials that pollute marine environments.
  • Direct the Secretary of State and the Board of Trustees to appoint an Administrator to manage the Trust Fund, implement standards and procedures to monitor the use of funds, and establish criteria to determine how grants will be awarded.
  • Establish an Advisory Board to the Trust Fund to provide guidance in the development and implementation of grant projects and in leveraging contributions to the fund.
  • Authorize $150 million to be appropriated for U.S. contributions to the Trust Fund each year for two years.

The UNITE for Our Oceans Act is the latest Whitehouse effort aimed at preventing and reducing the marine debris and plastic pollution plaguing the world’s oceans. Whitehouse and Sullivan authored the Save Our Seas Act, which was signed into law in 2018. More recently, Whitehouse, Sullivan, and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) teamed up to write Save Our Seas 2.0, which builds on the success of the initial legislation. Save Our Seas 2.0 has been approved by both chambers of Congress and awaits the President’s signature.

Roughly eight million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste from land enters the oceans each year. Ninety percent of this plastic enters the oceans from ten rivers, eight of which are in Asia. Plastic has been found in areas as remote as the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the ocean.

The text of the UNITE for Our Oceans Act is available here, and a summary of the bill is here.

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921