Washington — Plastic marine debris issues picked up in Congress June 5, with two members calling on President Donald Trump to develop a federal strategy against mismanaged plastic waste and its impacts on the environment, human health and local government recycling budgets.
U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., wrote Trump urging him to convene a wide-ranging group of federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academy of Sciences, to come up with a plan.
"The spread of single-use plastic products has led to widespread pollution of plastic in the U.S. and has caused a growing financial burden on state agencies, local governments and taxpayers for remediation," they wrote. "We believe that a robust strategy to limit single-use plastics domestically can reduce plastic pollution in America while serving as an example for other countries to follow."
Their letter came as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told a June 5 Washington panel that he and colleagues were close to introducing successor legislation to last year's Save Our Seas Act, the first federal legislation to tackle marine debris pollution, including plastics.
Whitehouse said the bill was still being drafted, but he predicted that the legislation would have widespread bipartisan support like last year's law. He said he and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, the lead Republican author of last year's bill, were working together.
"It will be much more ambitious," said Whitehouse, who called last year's bill a "beachhead" around the issue.
In comments to reporters, he said the bill would include a more robust U.S. response to marine pollution from Asian countries and would direct federal government research capabilities toward biodegradable plastics and the implications of microplastics in food supplies.
The June 5 letter from Lowenthal and Udall also addressed microplastics in the food chain, noting that studies have found nanoplastics in fish and in 90 percent of table salt.
"The bioaccumulation of chemical toxins from plastics that threaten human health requires an urgent response by the United States," they wrote.
While noting several times in their letter that plastics are versatile and have many benefits to society, they said much more needed to be done to manage them at the end of life.
They drew a link between rising natural gas production in the United States that has made plastics cheaper, and the economic challenges around recycling caused by those low-cost virgin materials.
"Many citizens strongly support recycling, but plastics recycling is not a realistic solution to the plastic pollution crisis," they wrote. "Most consumer plastics are economically impractical to recycle based on market conditions alone.
"The costs of recycling (trucks, drivers, equipment and sorting labor) are increasing while low-cost, abundant natural gas and new plastic production is driving the prices of new plastics lower," the letter said.
Lowenthal and Udall said there is bipartisan consensus in the Congressional International Conservation Caucus toward stronger action on the "global plastic pollution problem."