Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez introduced legislation this week aimed at reducing the amount of plastic that enters waterways. 

The bipartisan Save Our Seas Act 2.0 proposes making the issue a larger part of U.S. and foreign trade policy and tackling barriers to plastic recycling. It also would create a new revolving fund to offer states and localities low-interest loans to improve waste management infrastructure. 

Three lawmakers — Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Menendez — announced the bill together Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

At the news conference, Menendez said the bill is vital for New Jersey, which depends on a clean ocean to support its tourism industry

According to Clean Ocean Action, which conducts twice yearly beach sweeps across the Jersey Shore, there was a 24% increase in plastic bags found along the coastline and 16% increase in plastic straws from 2017 to 2018. Six municipalities in Atlantic and Cape May counties have passed ordinances regulating plastic bags, and a bill in the state Legislature proposes banning plastic bags statewide.

"No one wants to swim in plastic debris or eat fish that fed on microplastic," Menendez said. 

The senator said most marine debris comes from foreign sources. The senators cited a 2017 study that showed 10 rivers in Asia and Africa account for 90% of all plastics in the ocean globally.

"What may be a plastic wrapper floating down a river in China today could be microplastic in your tuna salad tomorrow," he said. 

The act proposes addressing the problem globally by enhancing outreach to countries abroad through federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. It also encourages the U.S. to address cleanups in future international agreements. 

Kevin Allexon, senior manager of government relations at the Washington-based Ocean Conservancy, praised the proposal and its focus on orchestrating a global effort to address the problem. 

"Every country, including the U.S., can do more to prevent plastic from entering the ocean," he said. "We are also pleased that the bill prioritizes research initiatives to better understand the problem of ocean plastic and what interventions would be most effective."

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