Plastic polluting the ocean is a fearfully large crisis, not yet fully measured or understood. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the Earth’s oceans annually, equal to five plastic grocery bags for each foot of coastline. Once in the ocean, it breaks down into microplastics that enter the food chain and are absorbed by fish, wildlife and people.
Such pollution is also unsightly. Clean Ocean Action said its New Jersey beach sweeps last year found 24% more plastic bags and a 16% increase in plastic straws.
Several South Jersey municipalities have led the response in the state by restricting plastic shopping bags, and the state Legislature is working on a statewide plastic bag ban after Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a bag-fee scheme as not strong enough. These actions are appropriate and we look forward to New Jersey joining other states that have restricted single-use plastic items.
But whatever New Jersey does, even if accompanied by similar actions in other states, it won’t be enough.
Ocean plastics pollution is a global crisis that requires changing habits and practices around the world. A 2017 study found, for example, that 10 rivers in Asia and Africa account for 90% of the plastics in the world’s oceans.
The United States can set a good example, as it did in 2015 by banning plastic microbeads from personal-care products. But examples alone won’t solve the ocean plastics crisis.
Enter New Jersey’s senior senator, Bob Menendez. He has introduced bipartisan, comprehensive legislation to strengthen the U.S. response on plastics and enhance its engagement on the issue with other nations and organizations. As a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has the clout to make sure the legislation tackles plastics pollution on a global scale.
Save Our Seas 2.0 is a package of bills that build on the first Save Our Seas Act enacted last year.
One Senate committee will fund marine debris responses, support related plastics innovation and conduct the studies needed to understand marine debris and how to address it. Another will support improvements in domestic waste infrastructure and attack challenges with plastics recycling that have upended established practices. Menendez’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee will focus on getting the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to upgrade their outreach to other nations on plastics pollution, and make it U.S. policy to lead international cooperation on combating marine debris.
Sen. Menendez is a natural for leading on the issue, since his state depends on a clean ocean to support its vibrant tourism and fishing industries.
We hope Save Our Seas 2.0 is enacted soon and its initiatives funded. It looks like a very important step in addressing this potential worldwide environmental calamity.