Plastics: US Senate takes another shot at marine debris

One cleanup of plastic debris on Midway Atoll found 1,268 rubber slippers (flip-flops) and shoes. (NOAA)

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that aims to reduce plastic debris in the oceans. 

The bill, called Save Our Seas 2.0, is sponsored by Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. It emphasizes outreach to other countries that are the major sources of plastic marine debris. The bill also has grants for studies to improve domestic infrastructure for waste-handling, and it launches a “genius” prize of at least $100,000 to encourage innovation. It was drafted with the cooperation of the plastics industry.

The first Save Our Seas bill became law in 2018. Also sponsored by Sullivan and Whitehouse, it focused primarily on reducing the flow of plastics from other countries.

Related: Industry launches campaign to rid ocean of plastic. Is it for real?

Environmental groups were split over SOS 2.0. Ocean Conservancy strongly supported it. Other groups thought the should have focused more on plastic reduction rather than waste management. To address that concern, the final version included more references to reduction as a priority.

The Senate approved the bill last week by unanimous consent. It must still pass the U.S. House.

This story was amended to describe changes to the final version of the bill.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

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