Towards Osaka Blue Ocean Vision - G20 Implementation Framework for Actions on Marine Plastic Litter

the United States

Actions and Progress on Marine Plastic Litter
Last Update : 2020/04/02

Policy framework

A. U.S. Marine Debris Prevention and Removal Act (NOAA, USCG, EPA)

  • Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee – IMDCC – is the federal interagency coordinating body responsible for addressing marine debris. IMDCC is made up of eight agencies led by NOAA and EPA (Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, Department of State, and Marine Mammal Commission)
  • IMDCC is primarily responsible for sharing information, assessing and implementing best management practices, and coordinating interagency responses to everyday marine debris and severe marine debris events.
  • IMDCC ensures coordination of federal agency research priorities, monitoring techniques, educational programs, and regulatory actions.
  • IMDCC is also responsible for recommending priorities and strategies, both nationally and internationally, to identify, determine sources of, assess, reduce, prevent, and mitigate the adverse impact of marine debris on the marine environment, natural resources, and vessels.

B. Clean Water Act (EPA)

  • The Clean Water Act allows for states to list waters impaired by pollutants, including trash. Unless planned measures can be taken to address impairments (including trash), the Act requires that states or US EPA develop Total Maximum Daily Loads for those pollutants.

C. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (EPA) 

  • The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) charges EPA to protect human health and the environment from potential hazards of waste disposal; conserve energy and natural resources; reduce the amount of waste generated; and ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner by establishing minimum national criteria for solid waste facilities. RCRA regulations are typically implemented by states and/or at the local-, county-, or municipal-level, with state or local governments having the option to put forth regulations that are more stringent than the national standards. These national standards are critically important to ensuring the sound management of solid waste national-wide. Facilities that do not meet these standards are considered open dumps that must close. EPA implements the conservation mandate through its Sustainable Materials Management Program. Recycling and waste diversion programs also are primarily implemented at the state and local-levels.


Marine Debris Act (NOAA, USCG)

  • Established NOAA Marine Debris Prevention (MDP) and Removal Program
  • Instructed NOAA to undertake marine debris mapping, identification, impact assessment, prevention, and removal efforts
  • Charged NOAA with improving efforts to reduce adverse impacts of abandoned, lost and derelict fishing gear (ALDFG)
  • Ordered NOAA to conduct outreach and education on sources, threats, and approaches
  • Provided for NOAA grants for marine debris research and regulation
  • Set forth Coast Guard Program regarding MARPOL
  • Established an Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee
  • Charged NOAA, USCG, and Committee with defining “marine debris”
  • Ordered Committee report on sources, impacts, alternatives, and recommendations to reduce
  • Charged NOAA and Committee with maintaining a Federal information clearinghouse
  • Added definition for and consideration of “Severe Marine Debris Events” to NOAA MDP program components
  • Instructed U.S. agencies to collaborate with international partners on scientific research identifying sources and impacts
  • Encouraged the development of new international agreements to mitigate discharge and provide technical assistance
  • Encouraged US Trade Representative to consider marine debris in future trade agreements
  • Provided funds to Ocean Conservancy to support its Global Cities Marine Debris Initiative.

EPA Marine Litter Related Voluntary Work

  • Trash Free Waters – is a stakeholder-based approach to assist U.S. and international communities with addressing land-based sources of marine litter. Within the United States, place-based, source reduction TFW efforts are underway in Santa Monica Bay and NY-NJ Harbor; trash capture projects are being demonstrated in Mobile Bay (AL) and the Proctor Creek watershed near Atlanta; adopt-a-spot  efforts, which encourage citizens and businesses to participate in litter cleanup of a designated area in their community at regular intervals in Texas; stakeholder engagement and project identification/prioritization in the Piscataqua watershed (between NH-ME) and in the Indian River Lagoon area (FL), and many others. Trash Free Waters also develops tools and resources that are helpful for its stakeholders. Tools include a best practices compendium so that municipalities, NGOs, and others can get information on costs and effectiveness of various management practices; a litter control policy and program document for the Gulf states; a forthcoming Compendium of trash provisions for  stormwater permit writers; and a forthcoming trash assessment tool that allows for detailed characterization of trash pollution to inform management practices, permit provisions, and impaired waterbody listing; and other tools. Furthermore, almost all of the place-based projects include education and outreach elements – particularly leveraging social marketing techniques to address littering behaviors.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (EPA) Voluntary Programs

  • America Recycles – EPA convened the first America Recycles Summit on November 15, 2018. At this event, EPA and 44 stakeholders from across the recycling system pledged to work together to devise solutions to four major challenges impacting the U.S. recycling system:  improving outreach/education, enhancing materials management infrastructure, strengthening materials management markets, and enhancing measurement. Four workgroups emerged from the Summit and their work throughout 2019 has identified specific near- and long-term actions that are needed in each action area. These efforts will strengthen the U.S. recycling system. A second America Recycles Summit will be convened on November 15, 2019, along with other events hosted by EPA throughout the week.
  • WRAP Program – In 2016, EPA signed an MOU with ACC and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) on ACC’s Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP). WRAP aims to create opportunities for consumers to recycle plastic films (e.g., municipal collection opportunities; in-store collection bins at supermarkets and big-box stores), to educate consumers about the availability of these opportunities, and to build demand for recycled film and products containing recycled film. The signatories meet regularly to discuss the path forward on this program.
  • Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge – EPA runs this challenge to encourage electronics manufacturers, brand owners, and retailers to improve and adopt sustainable materials management approaches. Each year, EPA gives awards to companies that both increase volumes of materials collected through “take-back” programs and recycled at third party-certified responsible electronics recyclers, and can showcase innovative ways they are managing materials, such as closing the loop on plastics recycling and using renewable packaging materials.
  • WasteWise – EPA works with businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations to promote the use and reuse of materials more productively over their entire life cycles.  Partners demonstrate how they reduce waste, practice environmental stewardship and incorporate sustainable materials management into their business model, including their waste-handling processes. Benefits of joining WasteWise include reduced costs for purchasing and waste disposal and opportunities to receive WasteWise Awards for outstanding achievements.
  • Facts and Figures Report – EPA began collecting and reporting data on the generation and disposition of waste in the United States more than 30 years ago EPA releases an annual report, Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures, to provide information on Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generation, recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery and landfilling. The report analyzes MSW trends in generation and management, materials and products, and economic indicators affecting MSW. Facts and Figures reports contain data through calendar year 2015; 2016-17 data are planned to be published in late 2019.

Additional International USG Programs 

  • Waste Prevention & Strengthening Recycling (USAID):
    • Municipal Waste Recycling Program (MWRP) – USAID reduces land-based sources of marine plastic pollution by supporting locally-led grants and providing technical assistance to local actors in Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam      to improve solid waste management and waste recycling efforts. The scope of the grants range from community-led awareness raising and education campaigns, to improving working conditions of informal waste collectors, engaging and empowering women, collaborating with the private sector, and supporting local governments in their efforts to collect and manage waste sustainably. To achieve its goals, the project focuses on three priority areas: 1) strengthening capacity of local actors and their collaboration 2) locally appropriate innovations and improved decision making and 3) engagement with the private sector for developing and implementing market-driven solution to marine plastic pollution and strengthening the recycling value chain.
    • Clean Cities, Blue Ocean (CCBO) –  In 2019, USAID awarded a new program with the goal of preventing ocean plastic pollution by building the capacity and commitment of local institutions in developing countries for 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) and solid waste management, with a focus on urban and peri-urban riverine and coastal areas. This will be a five -year program and will be global in scope.
  • Infrastructure Investment (USAID): Development Credit Authority (DCA) partial loan guarantee  for Circulate Capital – USAID signed an agreement with Circulate Capital to provide a $35 million, 50 percent loan-portfolio guarantee through DCA to incentivize private capital investment in the recycling value chain in South and Southeast Asia. The agreement leverages more than $100 million from a private-sector investment strategy managed by Circulate Capital, a firm dedicated to incubating and financing companies and infrastructure that prevent ocean plastic and backed by multinational corporations, including PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Dow, Danone, Unilever, and Coca-Cola.
  • Wastewater Cooperation: Cartagena Convention – The Protocol works with countries to help regulate their wastewater and nutrient pollution as priority pollutants. Recently, EPA worked with State Department to get the parties to agree to include marine litter as a third priority pollutant. Marine litter is now more formally embedded within legal obligations under the LBS Protocol.


Debris Act

  • Removal of over 17,000 metric tons of marine debris from US waters (ocean and Great Lakes)
  • Development of ten subnational (US state or regional) action plans to coordinate and spur local action to address marine debris.
  • Development of ten emergency response guides to aid local US authorities in preparing for severe marine debris events, from storms, hurricanes, etc., and to assist in faster responses to such events.
  • Development of Marine Debris Monitoring Shoreline Protocols and media for protocol training.
  • Development of public awareness materials and social media platforms for sharing information to increase awareness and drive behavioral change.
  • Development of technical papers summarizing the state of the science on several marine debris-related topics.
  • Over $20 million in funding provided to local partners for removal, prevention and research initiatives.

Clean Water Act

  • Domestic Trash Free Waters Voluntary Work – Since the start of the Trash Free Waters Program in 2013
    • More than 100 partner programs engaged nationally,
    • Eight microplastics research projects,
    • Ten infrastructure projects,
    • Nine data collection projects that have been used to build local community responses,
    • More than twenty projects funded by various EPA competitive grant programs – such as Urban Waters Small Grants and Environmental Justice Small Grants.
    • Twenty-two of the twenty-eight National Estuary Programs have developed Trash Free Waters Projects.
    • Two of the EPA Geographic Programs have recently announced funding for Trash Free Waters
  • National Coastal Condition Assessment 2010 is a statistical survey of the condition of U.S. marine and Great Lakes coasts. The most recent report can be found here:
  • Novel method for the extraction and identification of microplastics in ocean trawl and fish gut matrices. Research supported by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Scleractinian coral microplastic ingestion: Potential calcification effects, size limits, and retention. Research supported by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Domestic Voluntary Work – Since the start of the Trash Free Waters programs, more than 100 partner programs engaged nationally, eight microplastics research projects, ten infrastructure projects, nine data collection projects that have been used to build local community responses, and more than 20 projects funded by various EPA competitive grant programs – such as Urban Waters Small Grants and Environmental Justice Small Grants. Furthermore, 22 of the 28 National Estuary Programs have developed Trash Free Waters Projects.
  • Waste Management and Inclusive Capacity Building- Trash Free Waters-
    • Jamaica – Prioritize marine litter and solid waste management needs and develop projects and activities, including: procuring bins in Whitehouse-Bluefields communities; training schools and local staff in placing them and using the bins; and educating the general public about the impacts of trash.
    • Panama – Prioritize marine litter and solid waste management needs and develop projects and activities, including: identified included public awareness raising on solid waste management and the impacts of trash with local schools and universities. The project also included installation of a river trash boom on the Juan Diaz River.
    • Peru – Stakeholder workshop held involving over 70 participants. The pilot project identified for Chincha addressed solid waste management through helping two communities segregate and selectively collect at the source in order to recover more valuable recyclable material and prevent that material from entering waterways and the ocean.
    • Starting in US Federal fiscal year 2019, the domestic Trash Free Waters program will be collecting data for the following metrics: 1) Number of waterways that show an improvement in reduction of trash with participation and/or assistance from EPA; 2) Number of trash reduction or litter prevention projects in progress or completed in the fiscal year with participation and/or assistance from EPA; 3) Number of new or reissued MS4 permits that have quantitative or specific prescriptive provisions that address trash.
  • Stormwater Runoff and Marine Litter Prevention- Commission for Environmental Cooperation – The U.S., Canada and Mexico implemented two projects to reduce marine litter along the transboundary watersheds in 2017 to 2018. The project focused on reducing litter in storm drains by installing trash capture devices in storm drains in Vancouver, British Columbia and Bellingham, Washington. Scientists then inspected the litter found in the capture devices to better identify sources. The project at the U.S./Mexico border focused on a far-reaching environmental education campaign within schools, community organizations, businesses, etc. on the impacts of trash in the Tijuana River Estuary and upstream solutions to address it. The project also conducted a feasibility study for a trash boom for the City of Tijuana.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (EPA) Voluntary Programs

  • Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge – In 2017, EPA gave Dell an Honorable Mention in the Cutting-Edge Champion Award category of this program for their work in collecting ocean-bound plastics in Haiti and using these plastics in computer parts. Dell was previously awarded for working to establish a closed loop plastics recycling stream (2016) and for replacing much of their product packaging with renewable materials (2015). The program also awarded LG in 2017 for sustainability achievements in the design of their OLED line of televisions that included making sure all plastic parts were labeled to facilitate recycling.
  • WasteWise – Some of the 2018 EPA WasteWise award winners include: L Brands, Kohl’s Department Stores, Commonwealth Edison, Perishable Distributors of Iowa, and Urban Chestnut Brewing Company. These organizations were recognized for their leadership in waste prevention and diversion.

Additional USG engagements

  • USAID Municipal Waste Recycling Program – To date, the program has awarded a total of 30 locally-led grant projects in Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, with a total of 2.6 million people in these countries benefiting from the program activities. In addition, a total of 597,000 kg (approximately 1.3 million pounds) of plastic waste has been diverted from the natural environment through recycling and improved solid waste management practices.
  • DCA- The first loan utilizing the USAID DCA loan guarantee is expected in Fall 2019.
  • Cartagena Convention – This year, the LBS Protocol will publish a report, entitled “State of the Convention Area Report” (SOCAR) that will be the first ever baseline data of information regarding coastal water quality that reflects national data rather than extrapolated from global assessments.
  • Global Partnership on Marine Litter – The GPML is coordinated by the UN Environment Programme and recently updated its Framework document and is implementing its 2019 action plan.

Striving for Increased Public Participation in Environmental Protection in Central America through a Small Grants Program with Civil Society Organizations – To date, this Department of State program provided training to over 5,000 people, with 160 people actively involved in community-based initiatives.  This initiative strengthened solid waste management capacity in 10 communities through training 61 municipal employees and authorities, resulting in the improved management of over 3,500 tons of solid waste, including 43 tons of plastic waste recycled.

Note: Relevant indicators, data or other numerical information can be included at the discretion of each country, for example: (1) the amount of waste generated, reused, collected, recycled, and properly disposed of; (2) the amount of marine litter cleaned up; (3) the scale of use of innovative technologies and materials including R&D investment; (4) the scale and/or effect of assistance for countries that need technical capacity development including the increased amount of waste properly disposed of. (encouraged to indicate the proportion/elements of plastics and/or microplastics, if available)

Best practices

Extensive best practices developed through the above frameworks.  A selection is highlighted below:

Microplastics Expert Workshop report:

Further information

Contact details

Patrick Huber

Eric Haxthausen
U.S. Agency for International Development

Stephanie Adrian

Steve Morrison
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Nick Austin
U.S. Department of State

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