While everyone was distracted by Kanye West spouting inanities in the Oval Office, some actual work was done in the White House last week. Two senators showed up for the signing of a bill that garnered unanimous support in the Congress to clean up plastic pollution in the oceans.
Our seas are, of course littered with plastic from tiny fragments entering the Arctic to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Much of it comes from Southeast Asia, where plastic use is outstripping waste management policies.
The U.S. and other developed countries also outsource their plastic waste to countries like Vietnam for recycling. China—the biggest plastic recycler in the world—put a moratorium on importing plastics in 2017, which could cause an already massive problem to get much, much worse.
It’s against this backdrop that the president signed the Save Our Seas Act into law. The legislation reauthorizes the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s program for cleaning up marine debris and gives the agency the leeway to declare a severe marine debris events, like the one that occurred in the wake of Sandy. Those types of events require a coordinated cleanup. It also offers a vehicle for the executive branch to engage with other countries to get to the bottom of the plastic pollution problem.
In an unusual occurrence in this era of everything going to hell, the bipartisan support meant that Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was in the Oval Office for the signing. Trump even shook his hand, though Whitehouse didn’t look exactly thrilled to shaking the hand of a man hellbent on speeding along our climate doom, something which Whitehouse is actively trying to stop. And in a not-unusual occurrence, Donald Trump shared some freeform thoughts on our tremendously big plastic pollution problem:
The bad news is it [plastic debris] floats toward us. I’ve seen pictures recently, and some of you have seen them, where there’s a vast, tremendous, unthinkable amount of garbage is floating right into our coast, in particular along the West Coast...Every year, over 8 million tons of garbage is dumped into our beautiful oceans. And when you think of that number, I mean, to think 8 million tons, and I would say it’s probably senators, I think it’s probably more than that, based on what I’ve seen and based on the kind of work that I’ve seen being done.”
These remarks are extremely Trumpy, but they are also not wrong! The estimate of 8 million ton of plastic being dumped annually may be too low. There is indeed an unthinkable amount of garbage in our seas, poisoning wildlife and ourselves. Whatever pictures they showed Trump seem have to gotten the point across.