EPW Hearing Statement: Cleaning Up the Oceans: How to Reduce the Impact of Man-Made Trash on the Environment, Wildlife, and Human Health

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Cleaning Up the Oceans: How to Reduce the Impact of Man-Made Trash on the Environment, Wildlife, and Human Health.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this important hearing today. It’s actually quite timely for me. Last Saturday, I participated in the 31st Annual Delaware Coastal Cleanup. We don’t have the exact numbers from the 2018 cleanup yet, but, in 2017, the Annual Delaware Coastal Cleanup netted 3.8 tons of trash. And you would not believe the types of items we collected– from tennis balls, plastic water caps and lip balm containers to a metal baseball bat!

“3.8 tons is a massive amount of marine debris – and that’s just from one cleanup weekend along Delaware’s 97-mile coastline. Those numbers pale in comparison to the amount of trash in our oceans. The infamous ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ – the largest mass of marine debris floating in the ocean – is over 300 times the size of Delaware and nearly the size of Alaska.

“As you know, all of this debris has serious impacts on water quality, wildlife and our food chain. While the extent of its impacts aren’t fully known, we know that hundreds of species interact with plastics. Plastic consumption can harm wildlife in all stages of life, and recent research suggests that it can also decrease reproduction rates. We also know that tiny plastic particles, called microplastics, may be present in our drinking water and in the food we consume.

“Cleanup efforts, like the Delaware Coastal Cleanup, provide hands-on opportunities for citizens of all ages to learn about this global problem and contribute to the solution. However, most environmental experts agree that stopping debris from ending up in our waters in the first place is more of an urgent priority.

“To that end, we will hear about potential solutions from our esteemed panel today. As co-chair and co-founder of the bipartisan Senate Recycling Caucus – along with my Republican partner Senator Boozman – I want to mention recycling as one such solution. Delaware is a small state and doesn’t have a lot of space for landfills, so we had to get serious about recycling a number of years ago. As Governor, I signed two executive orders to improve and promote recycling. The first established the Citizens’ Work Group on Recycling to evaluate recycling in Delaware. The second established a goal of a 30 percent diversion rate for recyclables from Delaware’s solid waste stream. 

“Delaware’s recycling activities have continued to grow with implementation of the Universal Recycling Law in 2010, which eventually led to curbside recycling collection for all single-family households and commercial businesses. These practices work for both our environment and our economy. I’m proud of our state’s work, but while Delaware has made strides in recycling, other states and local communities have struggled.

“In many places, it’s cheaper to dispose of recyclable materials in landfills. These items can then make their way into our waters. This problem worsened when China announced earlier this year that it would no longer accept plastic waste from other countries to convert into new plastic-containing products. China was previously taking 30 percent of U.S. plastics waste. We, as a nation, will need to invest in better waste management and recycling infrastructure to address challenges like this. We will also need to find a creative way to finance these investments. Further, we may want to consider proposals to incentivize the use of recycled plastics for manufacturing purposes.

“All of that said, the federal government cannot undertake this effort alone. In the last several years, corporations and industry partners have stepped up and really led the way. To our witnesses testifying on behalf of these partners, we are truly grateful for your work and the commitments you have already made to recycle and help prevent debris from entering our oceans.

“Agreeing on solutions and figuring out how to implement them will not be easy. But I am encouraged by the strong bipartisan leadership Senators Whitehouse, Sullivan and others have shown. With their continued resolve, I believe we can put our heads together and make a real difference on this issue, and I look forward to doing so.

“Thank you again, Mr. Chairman.”