A bipartisan group of senators, including the sponsors of the Save Our Seas acts, unveiled new legislation Dec. 16 that would have the U.S. government set up a global fund to combat marine plastics pollution.
The bill calls for relatively modest initial funding of $300 million over two years and would direct the U.S. government to seek contributions from other nations for a trust fund, which would be managed by a board of representatives of countries providing financial support.
"This is a major step forward for the United States. We're going to lead the way with a global fund to aggressively deal with plastics in our oceans," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the sponsors, along with Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
The trust fund set up by the bill, the Unify Nations in Trash Elimination for our Oceans Act, would support projects to both reduce plastics getting into the oceans and promote more sustainable use of resources, including reducing single-use plastics, according to a summary distributed by the sponsors.
The bill comes after a July hearing in a Senate foreign aid subcommittee led by Graham, where he called for a government fund to address marine plastics pollution.
Graham said at the hearing that the U.S. government was spending about $12 million a year from its foreign aid budget to tackle ocean plastic waste, and he wanted to boost that. He said he envisioned the plastics fund as something similar to U.S. government efforts to fight malaria or AIDS around the world.
A news release does not detail what other countries might contribute. The $150 million a year for two years it calls for from U.S. government is less annually than the $1.5 billion over five years pledged by the industry-funded Alliance to End Plastic Waste.
One environmental group supporting the bill, the Ocean Conservancy, said that while $300 million won't solve the problem, it's twice the amount in the current largest trust fund, the World Bank's ProBlue program, which raised $150 million from multiple countries.
"This legislation represents an important investment from the United States and opportunity to exert much-needed leadership in the space," said Chever Voltmer, OC's plastics initiative director.
OC also noted that the legislation includes language that prohibits support for incineration. The bill text prohibits making grants for projects "that involve incineration or chemical recycling processes that produce fuel as the final product."
"The threat of plastic pollution knows no borders, and as a top contributor to the ocean plastics crisis, the United States has an important role to play in tackling this problem, both at home — from prioritizing the reduction of unnecessary single-use plastics to improving our own recycling rates — and abroad," Voltmer said.
Under the bill, the trust fund board would direct grants to national and local governments, as well as private organizations.
"This new initiative is an effort by America to put our money where our mouth is and will be used to leverage other nations to contribute so we have an all-hands-on-deck approach to dealing with the overwhelming problem presented by plastics in the ocean," Graham said.
Two of the Unite Acts sponsors, Sullivan and Whitehouse, were the main authors of the Save our Seas legislation. SOS 2.0 passed Congress by wide margins this year and awaits President Trump's signature.