Federal Actions to Address Plastic Marine Pollution

2013 Briefing Book

December 9, 2013
Megan Herzog, Angela Howe, Thomas Oh, Jaimini Parekh

On December 9, 2013, two Frank Wells Environmental Law Clinic students, Jaimini Parekh (J.D. 2015) and Thomas Oh (J.D. 2014), traveled to Washington, DC along with Emmett/Frankel Fellow Megan Herzog to speak on a panel at a briefing focused on the topic of plastic marine pollution. "Preventing Marine Plastic Pollution: Legal & Policy Briefing and Workshop," which was sponsored by the UN Environment Programme, U.S. Senate Ocean Caucus, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Surfrider Foundation, was held at NRDC's offices in Washington, DC, and simulcast at the California Department of Conservation in Sacramento and over the internet. The more than 100 attendees included senate staff, federal and state agency officials, industry representatives, and members of the NGO community.

Clinic students Jaimini Parekh and Thomas Oh provided an overview of the problem of plastic trash in the marine environment and presented a menu of federal law and policy solutions, based on their semester-long research for clinic client Surfrider Foundation. Following the workshop on December 11, 2013, the clinic students joined Surfrider Foundation's Legal Director, Angela Howe, in follow-up visits to several Senators' offices to discuss the details of the proposed federal actions to reduce the production and improper disposal of heavily-littered plastic items.

This Briefing Book, which the Clinic distributed at the presentation and to legislative staff, describes how plastic litter poses a serious threat to the marine environment and imposes significant economic costs on governments and industries. As legislation to address plastic waste continues to grow in popularity at the state and local levels, the need for national cooperation and uniformity in tackling this environmental issue will also grow. Congress can show leadership and act now by drawing upon policies that have been proven successful domestically and abroad to develop a national guiding strategy for addressing the problem of plastic marine pollution.

Proactive federal measures to reduce plastic consumption and production would, over time, significantly reduce the problem of marine plastic litter. Successful state, local, and international policies can serve as a model for federal policies. For instance, a federal plastic bag and food container restrictions coupled with a federal bottle deposit law could significantly reduce the most common types of plastic litter. Experiences from other countries show that a federal Extended Producer Responsibility program would promote ocean-friendly packaging design, and reduce plastic production and use.

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