Save Our Seas 2.0 Lead Sponsors Welcome New Academy of Sciences Report on Marine Debris Crisis

Report estimates 8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters ocean each year

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) and Don Young (R-Alaska)—champions of the 2020 Save Our Seas (SOS) 2.0 Act, the most comprehensive marine debris legislation ever—today welcomed a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine entitled “Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste.” The report, mandated by the SOS 2.0 Act and sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), synthesizes all existing research on marine debris and presents a stark assessment of the amount of plastic that enters the world’s oceans. 

According to the report, an estimated eight million metric tons (MMT) of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans each year—the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic waste into the ocean every minute. If current practices continue, the amount of plas­tic waste discharged into the ocean could reach up to 53 MMT per year by 2030, roughly half of the total weight of fish caught from the ocean annually. The study’s key recommendation is that the United States create a com­prehensive federal research and policy strategy that focuses on interventions across the entire plastic life cycle to reduce the U.S. contribu­tion of plastic waste to the environment, including the ocean. 

“I want to share my appreciation for the experts at the National Academies study committee and the NOAA Marine Debris Office for their critical work on this landmark analysis that deepens our understanding of the challenge of marine debris,” said Senator Sullivan. “This report is a sobering reminder of the scale of this problem, which impacts Alaska more than any other state with our 6,600 miles of coastline. The research and findings compiled here by our best scientists will serve as a springboard to our future legislative efforts to tackle this entirely solvable environmental challenge and better protect our marine ecosystems, fisheries, and coastal economies.”

“This National Academies study, carried out at the direction of our Save Our Seas 2.0 law, illustrates the mind-boggling scale of the global ocean plastic problem and how the U.S. contributes to it,” said Senator Whitehouse. “There’s a bipartisan tradition of ocean stewardship in the Senate, and I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to keep making progress cleaning up this harmful mess.”

“The National Academies plastic waste report, which emphasizes the negative impact of plastic pollution on coastal tourism, property values, and fisheries, is especially relevant to the safety and prosperity of communities in coastal states like New Jersey,” Senator Menendez said. “As the United Nation’s Environment Assembly initiates negotiations on a global agreement to combat plastic pollution this February, we are committed to ensuring the advances made in SOS 2.0 continue to guide the United States’ environmental and climate leadership on the world stage.”

“Marine debris is a threat to the health of the ocean and the species that depend on it for survival,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “I am encouraged that this report, required by the Save our Seas 2.0 Act, which I helped lead, focuses on the importance of interventions across the entire plastic lifecycle. Improving our monitoring and waste management efforts will be important but not sufficient. We must significantly reduce the creation of plastic debris. I look forward to the implementation of this report’s findings and the continued development of policies to address this critical environmental issue.”

“Healthy oceans are essential to Alaska's economy and way of life. As Co-Chair of the House Oceans Caucus, monitoring and eliminating marine debris has been one of my highest priorities,” said Congressman Don Young. “Last Congress, I was proud to help champion Save our Seas 2.0, which is now law, and I am pleased to see this vital effort is producing results. I am grateful to everyone at the Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine who helped make this report possible. I will keep standing up for the health of our waters, and look forward to continuing to work with friends on both sides of the aisle to ensure recommendations from this report are explored and implemented.”

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