WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced legislation that would bring the international community together to address the increasing amount of plastic and trash polluting our oceans and marine environments. The Unify Nations in Trash Elimination (UNITE) for our Oceans Act would direct the U.S. government to work with international partners to finance promising projects that promote the sustainable management of materials and reduce the amount of plastic and other waste polluting the world’s oceans.

“Each year, billions of pounds of trash – much of it plastic – makes its way into our oceans. This incredible amount of harmful material is having devastating effects not only on marine animals and ecosystems, but also on human health and economies around the world,” said Senator Coons. “We cannot address this problem alone. I am proud to lead this bill with my colleague, Senator Graham, to ensure the United States collaborates with the international community to address this critical issue.” 

“This is a major step forward for the United States. We’re going to lead the way with a global fund to aggressively deal with plastics in our oceans,” said Senator Graham. “This new initiative is an effort by America to put our money where our mouth is and will be used to leverage other nations to contribute so we have an all-hands-on-deck approach to dealing with the overwhelming problem presented by plastics in the ocean.”

“If we don’t find answers fast, we’ll have more tons of plastic waste in our oceans than living fish by the middle of the century.  Solving that problem requires work with other nations on new international solutions,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I’m excited that Senators Graham and Coons, and my ocean plastics partner Senator Sullivan, have joined together to introduce this bipartisan bill to combat a massive challenge facing our oceans.”

“The UNITE for our Oceans Act is set to build on the groundswell of bipartisan progress we’ve seen in Congress on tackling the global marine debris crisis,” said Senator Sullivan. “Complementing the important initiatives of my Save Our Seas Act and the recently-passed SOS 2.0, our legislation will establish a Marine Debris Trust Fund, increase the grants available around the world to prevent debris from entering the ocean, and encourage the reuse and recycling of plastics and the use of sustainable alternatives. I thank Senators Coons, Graham, and Whitehouse for their partnership on this global environmental challenge that not only tremendously impacts Alaska’s economy and environment, but the world’s.” 

“This bill demonstrates a clear bipartisan commitment to invest in a more sustainable future by tackling the plastics problem at the global level. WWF commends Senators Coons and Graham for prioritizing investments in global solutions to a global problem. We look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to make these and related concepts reality,” said Roberta EliasDirector of Policy for the World Wildlife Fund.

“Marine debris is a global issue that needs an international response. The Senate and House Oceans Caucus have prioritized this issue, resulting in a number of important legislative outcomes. Senator Graham’s and Senator Coons’ UNITE for our Oceans Act of 2020 is a giant step forward that displays the desperately needed U.S. leadership on this issue and will provide a mechanism to leverage other countries' contributions for a truly unified approach to achieving a solution,” said David Barron, Chairman of the International Conservation Caucus Foundation Group’s Board of Directors.

“We congratulate Senators Coons and Graham for their leadership in proposing this ambitious legislation and continuing a tradition of bipartisan support on the issue. Beyond authorizing a substantial investment, the bill importantly recognizes that incineration is not a sustainable solution while also providing flexibility to direct resources at the local level where they are needed most. While we have a lot to do at home – from prioritizing the reduction or phasing out of single-use unnecessary plastics to improving our own recycling rates – this bill would provide much-needed assistance to the international community to prevent and reduce marine plastic pollution, and help keep our global ocean healthy,” said Chever Voltmer, Plastics Initiative Director at the Ocean Conservancy.

The Unify Nations in Trash Elimination (UNITE) for our Oceans Act would:

  • Direct the Secretary of State to work with U.S. federal agencies, individual countries, and international organizations to establish a ‘Trust Fund for Marine Debris and Plastic Pollution’ (Trust Fund). The goal of the Trust Fund is to prevent and reduce marine debris and plastic pollution and facilitate the sustainable production and consumption of resources. The Trust Fund would be managed by a Board of Trustees, comprised of representatives of the countries that contribute.
  • Specify that the Trust Fund will award grants to national and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and other entities to complete projects that would reduce marine debris and plastic pollution. These projects include efforts to reduce the amount of trash and plastics entering marine environments, encourage the use of sustainable materials, reduce the use and improper disposal of single-use plastics, and promote reduction, reuse, and recycling of materials that pollute marine environments.  
  • Direct the Secretary of State and the Board of Trustees to appoint an Administrator to manage the Trust Fund, implement standards and procedures to monitor the use of funds, and establish criteria to determine how grants will be awarded.
  • Establish an Advisory Board to the Trust Fund to provide guidance in the development and implementation of grant projects and in leveraging contributions to the fund.
  • Require the Secretary of State to submit annual reports to Congress outlining the goals of the Trust Fund and the criteria that has been established to determine the programs and activities that it supports.
  • Authorize $150 million to be appropriated for U.S. contributions to the Trust Fund each year for two years.

The bill text is available here, and a summary of the bill is here