The lead U.S. senators pushing the Save Our Seas legislation aimed at global ocean plastic cleanup say they want Congress to bring more attention to challenges facing domestic recycling.
In a joint appearance Oct. 22 at the online Global Plastics Summit, Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said they want the Senate next year to take a deeper look at problems with recycling in the U.S.
"I think one of the things that we need to do is have some very good, strong hearings on recycling," Whitehouse said. "My take on it is that a lot of the recycling that is claimed to take place was actually phony, that stuff went into the blue recycling bin but then it ended up going across the ocean to an Asian country to be dumped and very likely ended up being washed into some river and from there into the sea."
Whitehouse, who with Sullivan was a lead sponsor of both the first SOS law in 2018 and SOS 2.0 this year, said the country is having a "reckoning" around recycling.
"I think we need to have a bit of a reckoning on what the recycling system looks like, how it really works, how Americans can count when they put something in the recycling bin to have it actually end up recycled," he said. "I think that's one of the important things we need to clean up and get right because recycling is going to be an important component of the solution."
Sullivan echoed that in comments at the online summit, sponsored by the Plastics Industry Association and IHS Markit.
"I agree fully with Sheldon about getting to the bottom what's really happening and holding hearings," he said.
Both lawmakers said they plan Save Our Seas 3.0 legislation, assuming that SOS 2.0 is signed by President Donald Trump this year.
The 2.0 version, which was widely supported by the plastics industry, has passed both the House and Senate and is undergoing technical revisions now.
Industry officials expect that the president would sign the bill this year, likely in the lame duck congressional session after the Nov. 3 election.
The first two SOS pieces of legislation have mostly had an international focus, with grants and smaller-scale work on domestic recycling.
The current SOS bill in Congress includes language calling for the U.S. to take a stronger role in global agreements around plastic waste, a measure that was hailed by some House Democrats as some countries push for the U.N. Environment Assembly to begin talks on a global treaty on plastics next year.
Domestically, the bill calls for spending at least $55 million a year for five years on grants to boost domestic recycling and on various studies, including on using plastic waste in infrastructure, health concerns over microplastics, eliminating barriers to collecting recyclables, spurring end-use markets for recycled plastics and minimizing the creation of new plastic waste.
It also establishes the Marine Debris Foundation as a charitable organization, with up to $10 million a year in funding for four years. It would include up to $1 million a year for "genius" grants for innovation around reducing plastic waste.