For Immediate Release, November 6, 2013

Contact: Emily Jeffers, (415) 632-5309,

EPA Launches Initiative to Reduce Plastic Pollution in Oceans

New Steps Follow Petition to Protect People, Wildlife From Toxic Trash

SAN FRANCISCO–- After a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Agency says it will take steps to cut plastic pollution in oceans, improve monitoring and conduct a scientific review of the human-health effects of eating fish that have ingested plastics and other pollution.

Ocean plastics pollution
Photo courtesy NOAA. Photos are available for media use.

The agency also says it will develop national data on the economic costs of ocean litter to local, state and national governments, and will do more to prevent people and businesses from littering in oceans.

“We’re happy to see the EPA taking plastics pollution seriously,” said Emily Jeffers, an oceans attorney at the Center. “Every year bits of discarded plastic kill thousands of seabirds, sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals. Some choke on plastic, and others are poisoned by it. Still more find themselves swimming through vast patches of toxic litter. It’s an international tragedy that needs to be addressed.”

Billions of pounds of plastic are found in giant, swirling convergences around the world, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, twice the size of Texas. The root of the problem is plastic and other garbage that’s dumped into the oceans. In the Los Angeles area alone, 20 tons of plastic fragments — like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles — are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.

Last year the Center petitioned the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to develop water-quality standards for plastic pollution and publish information to guide states in monitoring and preventing harm to waters from plastic pollution. Although the EPA declined to develop plastic-specific water-quality criteria, the agency agreed to expand other efforts to protect people and wildlife from litter in oceans and other aquatic environments.

According to the statement granting the Center’s petition, the EPA said it will develop and provide information on reducing plastic pollution at its source — guidance covering, as the Center requested, plastic-pollution threats, monitoring and measurement, best management practices to reduce that pollution, and direction for states and cities to create regulations to prevent plastic pollution.

“Obviously we think the EPA needs to move as aggressively as possible to stem the spread of ocean plastic pollution, including strict limits on discharge,” said Jeffers. “But the agency is moving in the right direction with these new steps. We hope we can begin getting a handle on this crisis before it’s completely out of control.”

Plastics pollution has a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. Curious marine mammals get entangled and drown in plastic garbage, seabirds feed the bright, colorful pieces to their young instead of food, and sea turtles eat plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish.
Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or becoming entangled in it; many more suffer after ingesting plastic particles that contain toxic substances, which can cause death, injury or reproductive failure.

Endangered wildlife like Hawaiian monk seals and Pacific loggerhead sea turtles are among the nearly 300 species affected by plastic litter.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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