Washington — The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act passed the U.S. Congress Oct. 1, clearing a key hurdle for legislation that would strengthen the U.S. government's response around marine litter and plastic waste in the oceans.
The act, which is supported by the plastics industry, passed the House on a voice vote after a version of it had cleared the Senate unanimously in January.
It builds on the first Save Our Seas Act, which passed in 2018, and aims to strengthen the U.S. government's international response to marine pollution. It also has domestic components, such as funding studies around technological innovations and requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a strategy for boosting waste infrastructure.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., one of the lead sponsors, said in a speech on the House floor that the bill creates a marine debris foundation to support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's work and sets up a grant program for local governments.
But she also suggested other legislation would be needed to address plastics in the environment and pointed to a recent study that said plastics in the ocean will triple by 2040 without significant action.
"We need to fundamentally change our reliance on plastics. Plastics pollute our ocean and exacerbate the climate crisis," she said. "The fossil fuel and plastics industries are deeply connected, and plastics contribute a significant share of industrial emissions in the United States."
She said the legislation would also assess the potential for a new international agreement to address marine debris.
The House vote was applauded by industry groups and some environmental organizations.
The American Chemistry Council pointed to provisions that would study mass balance certification systems for recycled polymers and projects to repurpose plastics in infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.
"Plastic waste is a solvable challenge, and this legislation will focus U.S. resources on working with other governments to share knowledge and improve infrastructure to better manage and recycle used plastics," said Joshua Baca, vice president of ACC's plastics division. "America's plastic makers strongly support this important, bipartisan legislation."
The Plastics Industry Association said the bill showed bipartisan interest in protecting the oceans and pointed to industry programs to increase sustainability of plastics.
The environmental group Ocean Conservancy supported the bill and said it's a step in the right direction because it will boost U.S. involvement internationally. But it also argued the bill is "not a cure-all" and that more is needed.
"This bill firmly establishes ocean plastic pollution as a policy priority for the United States government," said Doug Cress, OC's vice president of conservation. "Plastic pollution is one of the most visible and most prolific threats facing our ocean today, and as the No. 1 consumer of plastics worldwide, the United States needs to be part of the solution."
Some other environmental groups had mounted a campaign to urge lawmakers to vote no on SOS 2.0, saying that Washington should instead pass the more heavily Democratic-backed Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.
But others noted the bipartisan agreement around SOS 2.0 and said the legislation would help with marine debris. In a joint statement Oct. 1 from several Democrats and Republicans hailing the House vote, they noted the legislation returns to the Senate.
"Save Our Seas 2.0 builds on our successes combating marine debris through bolstering plastics research and funding needed for infrastructure improvements," said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. "Clean oceans are not just an environmental issue, but an economic one as well."