Our Oceans Are Choking In Plastic, And Half-Measures Are Inadequate


Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into our oceans. That’s the equivalent of one garbage truck load of petrochemical slop dropped every minute of every day into the sea.

Even when it’s out of sight, even if it is no part of a Pacific garbage patch that is twice the size of Texas, it affects our lives. Plastic doesn’t decompose, so it fragments into particles that pollute the food chain. It poisons birds, kills marine life, and jeopardizes human health. Plastic has been found in 59 percent of sea birds, 100 percent of sea turtles, and more than 25 percent of fish sampled from markets all over the world.

It is choking our planet, from the remotest Arctic to the depths of the Mariana Trench.

It’s time to take giant steps toward solving this crisis, and banning plastic straws alone won’t get it done.

So a bipartisan group of Senators is taking another crack at it, trying to build off the momentum from an initiative that even President Trump supported last year. The question is whether they are addressing the essential aim of reducing plastic production and consumption.

The first Save Our Seas Act, signed by Trump last October, extended the Marine Debris Program, and provided funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for major cleanup efforts.

The new bill, known as Save Our Seas 2.0, will enhance that program. It will also upgrade our country’s recycling infrastructure by exploring new uses for plastic waste and keep it from entering the oceans, while financing research for technologies that could repurpose used plastic into more useful things.

It also proposes new measures to bolster international cooperation to address marine debris, which is why New Jersey’s Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is one of the three primary sponsors.

These are all good things.

But as some experts point out, the bill does nothing to reduce the generation of plastic.

Judith Enck, the former EPA regional director and founder of Beyond Plastics, says nothing in the bill will deter the petrochemical industry from going all-in on plastic production — especially as they anticipate an abating need for fossil fuels in the energy and transportation sector in the future.

Nowadays, plastic is a fracking biproduct: The toxic gas that flares into the atmosphere at fracking facilities is captured and sent via pipeline to a facility known as an ethane cracker plant. There, the ethane is separated from natural gas to produce ethylene, the building block of plastics and other industrial products.

That process creates a massive amount of carbon,” Enck says, “and this bill ignores the nexus between plastic production and climate change.”

Most ethane cracker plants are located on the Gulf Coast, but many more are planned for Pennsylvania and Ohio, two states where New Jersey gets much of its air pollution. A report by The Center for International Environmental Law calculates that as ethane cracking becomes more prominent, the rate of plastic production growth by 2030 will produce the same amount of carbon emissions as 295 new coal plants.

Save Our Seas 2.0 doesn’t address that.

Enck also points out that the bill is pushed heavily by the American Chemistry Council, which always leads the fight against plastic bag bans.

Ocean Conservancy, the superb advocacy group, admits that the bill can be strengthened to promote plastic alternatives. But it supports the bill because, as Senior Manager of Government Relations Kevin Allexon put it, “When you have a sharply divided Congress, you have to work within some difficult boundaries. This is what can be done on a bipartisan basis. For now.”

Fair point. But the ocean doesn’t care what party you belong to. Regardless of your political proclivities, your kids will live in a world where there will be more plastic (by weight) in the oceans than fish by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum.

It’s encouraging that Congress is taking action. But incrementalism won’t cause much of a ripple in our oceans.

Original Article