Let's Talk Legislation: Save Our Seas 2.0

Each year, 8 million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans, which creates substantial problems for marine wildlife, human health, and coastal economies. Given its future implications, ocean pollution is an issue that should command attention from everyone, regardless of where they live or what they think politically. Fortunately, American lawmakers are tackling this issue with the bipartisan and unifying sentiment it deserves, most recently with the introduction of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act.  


Introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Save Our Seas 2.0 seeks to build on the original Save Our Seas Act that was signed into law last year. Specifically, this supplemental legislation aims to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans by providing more resources to address the problem, pursuing worldwide public-private collaborative efforts to spur innovation, and improving existing waste management infrastructure. This type of multifaceted approach is necessary to address a problem as complex and with as many causes and effects as marine plastic pollution.


If passed into law, Save Our Seas 2.0 would first establish the Marine Debris Response Trust Fund. This fund would provide resources to states and governmental and nongovernmental organizations addressing related prevention, cleanup, and response efforts. With this support, local communities will be better equipped to respond to natural and human caused environmental disasters.


If Save Our Seas 2.0 leads to the innovation it sets out to encourage, relying on the trust fund to address marine plastic pollution will seldom prove necessary. The legislation’s Genius Prize competition would provide cash rewards to innovators who improve plastic packaging and clean up technologies, and special priority will be given to those who have a strategy to scale their product to the full market. This competition will create an added incentive for American innovators and facilitate the development of cutting-edge technologies that will help clean up our oceans.  


Save Our Seas 2.0 would also make use of incentive structures in the fishing industry. Fishermen out at sea who incidentally capture plastic waste and properly dispose of it would potentially be eligible for grants. This clever scheme, by involving those who encounter marine plastic most often, would greatly assist cleanup efforts.


In addition to the prize competition, Save Our Seas 2.0 would commit resources to scientific research and allow for studies that will provide a deeper understanding of the causes and effects of marine pollution. These studies will identify points of potential improvement and provide information helpful in reducing plastic waste.


A key contributor to ocean plastic pollution is the lack of sufficient infrastructure in communities throughout the United States and world. For this reason, Save Our Seas 2.0 sets out to invest in and provide grants for domestic waste management infrastructure projects. These initiatives could include measures such as increasing access to recycling centers and expanding the range of recyclable products.   


Arguably the most important component of Save Our Seas 2.0 is its provision to foster global engagement on this issue. While American leadership is crucial, it cannot significantly reduce marine plastic pollution, a vast majority of which comes from Asia, on its own and nor should it. This legislation, to foster a worldwide response to this unquestionably global issue, directs U.S. agencies to expand their international outreach and aims to spur collaboration between different countries, international organizations, private companies, and fishing industry leaders across the world. Establishing these global partnerships and an open marketplace of ideas will produce the best and most innovative solutions that will reduce plastic pollution in a timely manner.


Building on its bipartisan predecessor that was passed last year, Save Our Seas 2.0 offers a multifaceted approach to address the critical issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. By committing to innovation, incentives, and science, this legislation would substantially accelerate efforts to save the world’s waterways that provide crucial support for marine ecosystems, coastal economies, and human health.


Ronnie Thompson