Statement On Ocean Plastics | U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont


Mr. Chairman, this is an extremely important issue and we have excellent witnesses here to discuss it.  Senator Whitehouse and I were in Vietnam last year where we met with Vietnamese officials and scientists to discuss ocean plastic pollution, which is a serious problem for that country with a 2,000 mile coastline. 

We – and by that I mean human beings – are causing potentially irreparable harm to the oceans and marine wildlife, which are the primary source of protein for billions of the world’s people. 

Acidification from carbon emissions, oil spills, untreated sewage, and millions of tons of plastic waste are destroying life in the oceans.  Rivers that empty into the oceans carry enormous quantities of discarded plastic.  Beaches are littered with it.  Coral reefs are dying. 

Virtually every marine creature is ingesting plastic, from tiny particles to plastic bottles, bags, and other containers.  Enough plastic debris to cover half a tennis court has been found in the body of a single dead whale.  Seals and sea birds are ingesting plastic.  Even plankton, so it makes its way up the food chain to the fish we eat. 

Many people assume recycling is the answer, and that is what the chemical companies and the companies that produce plastic containers want us to think.  I wish it were true.  Less than 10 percent of the world’s plastic is recycled. 

Part of the reason is lack of infrastructure and regulations, but some plastic, like plastic bags, cannot be recycled.  And even plastic that can be recycled can only be reused a few times.  Then it is discarded.    

It is for these reasons that I have cosponsored Senator Udall’s “Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act”, which, among other things, limits certain single-use plastics and requires manufacturers of plastic products to finance and organize the recycling of their products after consumer use.

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