SAVE OUR SEAS 2.0 ACT HEADS TO PRESIDENT’S DESK, ADDRESSING PLASTIC AND TRASH POLLUTING OCEAN, HARMING MARINE LIFE, AND WASHING UP ON AMERICAN SHORES


By Ramona du Houx

Dec, 28, 2020


Oceana released a report – based on an analysis of e-commerce packaging data – that found Amazon generated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste last year. This is comprised of the air pillows, bubble wrap, and other plastic packaging items added to the approximately 7 billion Amazon packages delivered in 2019, according to news accounts. The report found that Amazon’s estimated plastic packaging waste, in the form of air pillows alone, would circle the Earth more than 500 times.

The study also, by combining the e-commerce packaging data with findings from a recent study published in Science, estimates that up to 22.44 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste entered and polluted the world’s freshwater and marine ecosystems in 2019, the equivalent of dumping a delivery van payload of plastic into the oceans every 70 minutes.

Congress has realized the pressures human consumption places on nature with plastics, to some degree.

U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) applauded the passage of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act by the U.S. Senate. The bipartisan bill, introduced in June, seeks to tackle the problem of plastic waste on a global scale by spurring innovation and finding uses for the plastic waste that already exists to keep it from entering the oceans.

The legislation builds on the initial progress made by the Save Our Seas Act, which was signed into law in October 2018. 

The Save our Seas 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 support research on the sources of marine debris and take action to prevent and clean up marine debris.
  • Encouraging the executive branch to engage with the leaders of nations responsible for the majority of marine debris, support research into improved waste management infrastructure and new materials that reduce the risks of marine debris, examine the causes of ocean debris, pursue new international agreements to address this issue, harness the United States’ trade authority to urge other countries to improve their waste management systems, and to quantify the economic benefits for nations in addressing the crisis. 

“Countless jobs in Maine and in coastal communities across our country rely on the health of the ocean.  The Maine lobster, aquaculture, and tourism industries are among the many critical sectors of our economy that are dependent on Maine’s pristine waters,” said Senator Susan Collins.  “I look forward to seeing this legislation become law, which will help to accelerate the removal of plastic waste and prevent future marine debris, protecting this vital resource for generations to come.”

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.  The plastic breaks down into tiny pieces that can enter the marine food chain and harm fish and wildlife and wash ashore on even the most isolated stretches of coastline.  Plastic has been found in areas as remote as the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the ocean.

“Maine’s waters and Maine’s well-being are inextricably linked – meaning any threat to our oceans is also a threat to the livelihood of Maine people,” said Senator Angus King. “This bipartisan legislation is a step in the right direction as we work to protect our ocean so future generations can access its widespread economic potential, as well as experience its unparalleled beauty. I’m pleased to see our bill pass the Senate and look forward to the President signing it into law for the benefit of generations to come.”

When plastic waste is deposited in landfills, it can seep into groundwater, affecting the hormones of those who drink it. Plastic traces have even been found in animal feed. Plastics dissolve into tiny pieces, called microplastics. These in turn end up in the fish that millions around the world eat as well as in our livestock and grains. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines “microplastics” as any plastic fragment less than 5mm long. Microplastics are typically formed when plastic waste enters the rivers and oceans and begins to break down due to exposure to UV-radiation, wave energy, wind, salt, and other factors. 

In March of this year Dr. Noam van der Hal’s study proved cow milk contained microplastic particles. A study of chickens raised in gardens in Mexico found an average of 10 microplastics per chicken. Scientists have also found microplastics in honey and beer. On average, bottled water contains 22 times more microplastic than tap water.

Located halfway between Hawaii and California is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which covers an estimated surface of 1.6 million acres, or three times the size of France. Within this patch, there are 250 pieces of plastic per person in the world. After the plastic breaks down into microplastic, it is incredibly difficult for animals to distinguish it from other food. Many of these plastic contain toxic chemicals, which marine life end up ingesting. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only one of the five plastic accumulation zones that sits in the world’s oceans. 

Research in 2019 published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found microplastics in the airsoilrivers and the deepest oceans around the world. The average person eats at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year and breathes in a similar quantity, according to the study. “The facts are simple. We are producing a lot of plastic and it is ending up in the ecosystems, which we are a part of,” said Kieran Cox, from the University of Victoria in Canada, the lead researcher of the report. In 2018 microplastics were found in human stool samples, confirming that people ingest the particles.

MORE ABOUT THE SAVE OUR SOULS ACT

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) authored the bipartisan Save Our Seas (SOS) Act, to address the marine debris epidemic affecting America’s oceans, shorelines, and inland waterways, as well as other coasts across the globe. 

“Dangerously high levels of marine debris pollution in our oceans and waterways is an urgent environmental, economic and public health issue for coastal communities in New Jersey and across the country,” said Senator Booker. “Our bipartisan bill is a good first step toward the clean up of these waterways and shorelines throughout the United States and will boost our ability to coordinate with international partners to respond to this crisis.”

The Senators, all members of the Senate Oceans Caucus, introduced the legislation in March 2017 to boost the federal government’s domestic and international response to the millions of tons of plastic waste and other garbage that litter our shores and pollute our oceans, endanger wildlife, and disrupt commerce.  President Trump signed the bill in October, 2018.

“Everyone from scientists, to journalists, to fishermen, to coastal industries and international corporations are sounding the alarm about plastic trash and other marine debris polluting our oceans.  It’s time to protect our precious marine ecosystems and coastal economies from this threat,” said Senator Whitehouse, co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus.  “This bipartisan bill represents an important step forward in addressing the marine debris crisis.  Senators Sullivan, Booker, Inhofe and I were proud to pass it in the Senate.”

“This bipartisan legislation is important for the country, for the world, and certainly for Alaska, which has more coastline than the rest of the Lower 48 combined,” said Senator Sullivan.“The prevalence of marine debris on our shores is a chronic issue.  This bill will serve to strengthen the federal response capabilities to marine debris disasters, combat land based marine debris resources, and encourage interagency coordination in stemming the tide of ocean trash and importantly encourage the Trump administration to pursue international agreements with regard to this challenge.”

A Save Our Seas 3.0 bill in the works-

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said their ongoing efforts to clean up ocean plastic pollution may include a ‘Save Our Seas 3.0’ bill.

The legislation would build on the Save our Seas 2.0 Act, and the original Save our Seas Act, signed by President Trump in 2018. Whitehouse said he was open to measures aimed at ‘reduction efforts, recycling improvements, and supporting innovation.

The Washington Examiner was first to report the coming legislation after an interview with Whitehouse and Sullivan. Whitehouse said his immediate focus would be on working with the Biden administration and ensuring the federal government spends the $75 million allocated for measures created by the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act last year.

“We’re still in early conversations about ‘Save Our Seas 3.0,’ but I expect our next bill will be a significant step forward in addressing marine debris and plastic pollution,” Whitehouse said.

Save Our Seas and Save our Seas 2.0 acts established a Marine Debris Foundation tasked with studying the best methods to reduce plastic pollution in oceans. They also encourage more international collaboration.