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Environment

Bipartisan Save Our Seas 2.0 Act Addresses Oceanic Plastic Waste

Finding common ground in Congress today can no doubt be complicated. However, certain issues break down walls and bridge both sides of the aisle. The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act did just that.

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Sponsored by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Save Our Seas 2.0 recently passed both chambers by unanimous consent and was signed into law by President Donald Trump. This was no small feat, given the frequent partisanship around environmental protection-related topics.

Save Our Seas 2.0 builds upon the SOS Act of 2018 and strives to reduce, remove and prevent plastic waste in waterways that threatens both marine life and coastal economies. SOS 2.0 outlines three central objectives:

  1. Combat marine debris.
  2. Enhance international engagement in the fight against marine debris.
  3. Improve domestic infrastructure to prevent marine litter.

While continuing the work of its predecessor legislation to fund research studies and plastic debris removal projects, SOS 2.0 also establishes biennial cash prizes for innovative marine plastic waste solutions. The goal is to stimulate research projects that advance understanding and technological innovations in the prevention and removal of plastic litter. Furthermore, SOS 2.0 supports educational initiatives that will help guide Congressional policy by funding plastic and microfiber pollution reports.

Once enacted, SOS 2.0 gives the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee up to two years to provide Congress with a plan for how federal agencies and relevant stakeholders can work together to reduce microfiber pollution. Among other marine debris provisions—like studies on the feasibility of a national derelict vessel program and the impacts of derelict fishing gear—SOS 2.0 also creates a public-private Marine Debris Foundation that will support and expand the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual funding.

SOS 2.0 has also received significant support from plastics industry groups because it complements ongoing efforts to address plastic waste through increased recycling infrastructure and innovations. SOS 2.0 helps directly address marine debris both domestically and through international collaboration.

International Collaboration to Address Plastic Waste

 SOS 2.0 provides a substantial step toward making sea conservation and oceanic plastic waste management a part of a U.S. foreign policy agenda. A second component of SOS 2.0 advocates for collaboration around plastic waste management in international organizations and forums. U.S. government agencies and policymakers with diplomatic roles will work with foreign governments, and international organizations to strengthen systems and infrastructure that reduce oceanic plastic waste and marine debris. SOS 2.0 also encourages the development of international standards and practices. This includes measurable targets and an action plan for plastic waste and litter reduction worldwide.

Domestic Provisions for Marine Pollution

The most critical pillar of SOS 2.0 is in its provisions to improve domestic infrastructure to manage marine pollution. It provides $55 million in annual funding until 2025 to enhance “post-consumer materials management” and local recycling infrastructure to reduce plastic waste in waterways. Likewise, SOS 2.0 also provides multiple grants aimed at improving local water management and drinking water infrastructure.

SOS 2.0 became reality because of significant support and advocacy from the plastics industry and environmental groups to address oceanic debris. Roberta Elias, the director of policy and government affairs of the World Wildlife Fund, an international environmental organization, stated that:

“…this legislation is a step in the right direction and will help us better understand the barriers to recycling and identify interventions to reduce marine debris”.

Likewise, the plastics industry supported SOS 2.0 as part of its efforts to find new solutions to support environmental conservation efforts. Plastics Industry Association Tony Radoszewski applauded SOS 2.0, stating,

“[SOS 2.0] is a testament to the bipartisan agreement that we all need to do more to protect our oceans. The plastics industry and its more than 1 million American workers strongly support this legislation.”

 

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