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Existing U.S. Federal Authorities to Address Plastic Pollution: A Synopsis for Decision Makers

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In support of addressing the global problem of plastic pollution, and pursuant to a congressional mandate in the bipartisan Save Our Seas 2.0 Act of 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sponsored the Ocean Studies Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to commence a study on the United States’ contribution to global ocean plastic waste and recommend potential means to reduce those contributions. At the close of 2021, NASEM issued its report “Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste.”

This report confirmed the nation’s outsized role in global plastic pollution and recommended the
United States (U.S.) adopt a plan of action by the end of 2022. To advance these efforts, the NASEM Report recommended the United States create a “coherent, comprehensive, and crosscutting federal research and policy strategy that focuses on identifying, implementing, and assessing equitable and effective interventions across the entire plastic life cycle to reduce U.S. contribution of plastic waste to the environment, including the ocean.”

The NASEM Report laid out proposed interventions across the plastic life cycle and provided a brief outline of existing U.S. legal authorities available to support such interventions. This report, prepared by Environmental Law Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, expands on and adds to those legal authorities and discusses their potential applicability to each intervention area.

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