U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

April 20, 2024

Plastic vs. World

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

The miracle of plastic is that “it takes between 500 and 1000 years to break down,” and can protect food and other items from bacteria. It has been life changing and lifesaving. Plastic is used nearly everywhere due to its relatively cheap cost and ability to take any shape imaginable.

The curse of plastic, is that “it takes between 500 and 1000 years to break down” and has filled our planet with more forever trash than we thought ever possible.

As Earth Day 2024 approaches, the world is raising the volume on alarms about plastics and their dangerous impact on human life, animal life and our Earth.  

Fifty-four years ago, when Earth Day was founded, many Americans were blissfully unaware that the lead from leaded gasoline was seeping into the air, water and things all around them causing health and environmental problems. Today, similarly, many Americans are unaware of the amount of plastic they are ingesting daily. 

Scientists estimate that the average American ingests more than 70,000 microplastics annually in their drinking water supply. The origins of these plastics range from litter to stormwater runoff, to poor wastewater management in treatment facilities.  

Plastic pollution is one of the most urgent environmental issues of our time.

Microplastics and microfibers are smaller than 5 mm in size. An estimated 50 to 75 trillion pieces of microplastics are in the ocean. Trillion! Because these microplastics are so small, many animals mistake them for food. These microplastics have been found to attract and carry pollutants that are present in the water.  Making them carriers of various harmful chemicals. 

Evidence of the threat from plastics is not new, but gaining attention. In 2015, President Obama worked with Congress to pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act. This legislation helped to ban plastic microbeads in certain products from being sold in the United States. However, this same regulation does not apply to the limiting of microplastics in bottled water or microfibers in clothing.

When synthetic clothes are washed in a washing machine, an estimated 3.5 quadrillion microfibers are released, a process known as microfiber shedding. To help put the micro size of these fibers and the major size of this problem into perspective, a quadrillion is one thousand billion.

A study by NOAA took samples of various locations of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and found that 98 percent of the samples contained microplastics. This is an astounding number. Also remarkable: most plastic pollution in the Bay stays within those local waters.

Microplastics threaten the marine life like oysters and crabs that call the Chesapeake Bay home, which in turn can negatively affect the economy and health of Maryland and the region at large.

In light of the growing threat of microplastics and the broader environmental challenges we face, I am proud of some of the more recent accomplishments we have made to address the plastic pollution crisis.

Congress passed the bipartisan Save Our Seas 2.0 Act in 2020. One of the crucial components to this act was the authorization of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The NOAA Marine Debris Program serves as a model for finding ways to track plastics and other marine debris around the world.

Congress must continue to take action to reduce the use and production of plastics while also improving recycling facilities. I am proud to be a cosponsor of The Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act, introduced by my colleague, Senator Dick Durbin. Such legislation to protect public health should have bipartisan support.

When Earth Day was first celebrated, the topic of environmental protection was not as partisan as it is today. After all, clean air, water and land should be available to all. Our common goal should be on passing legislation that works to protect and preserve our Earth and all of its residents.

While Earth Day only comes around once a year on April 22, it should be celebrated every day. We have a responsibility to protect our planet.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email about this or any other topic. I value you all of the feedback we receive.

In solidarity,

Ben Cardin