Press Release

April 22, 2024
Cardin Recognizes Earth Day 2024

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee submitted the following statement into the record of the 118th Congress to commemorate Earth Day 2024:

“Mr. President, on Monday, April 22nd, we celebrate Earth Day. Since April 22nd, 1970, millions have come together worldwide to highlight the urgent action needed to save our planet.  

In 1970, the American environmental movement began in earnest as concerned individuals mobilized en masse to protect the planet.

The status quo was unacceptable- rivers so polluted they caught fire, children getting sick just from playing outside, and wildlife showing clear signs of distress.

In Congress, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, championed the Earth Day movement, with the hope of bringing environmental awareness to the political and national stage. 

Back then, the exact causes of our planet and people’s ailments were not totally understood. The American people were not aware the extent to which the reliance on fossil fuels, fertilizers, and pesticides were causing irreparable harm.

We know a lot more now. However, we are still learning about how harmful everyday products are. Items that we accept as part of our daily life. Plastic products for example are ubiquitous.

This year’s  Earth Day theme, Planet vs. Plastics, reminds us that the threat of plastic pollution continues to grow.  Plastics are actively causing harm to human life, animal life and our Earth.  

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

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues we currently face. Microplastics and microfibers are smaller than 5 mm in size. An estimated 50 to 75 trillion pieces of microplastics are in the ocean. 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 such as this prompted, then President Barack Obama, to pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act. The Microbead-Free Waters Act 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 the washing machine, an estimated 3.5 quadrillion microfibers are released, a process known as microfiber shedding. This particle is the most prevalent type of microplastic found in the Chesapeake Bay. With over 3,000 miles of coastline, Maryland is extremely vulnerable to plastic marine debris and its environmental consequences.

A study by NOAA took samples of various locations of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and found that 98% of the samples contained microplastics.

A modeling exercise conducted by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science found that the majority of plastic pollution in the Chesapeake Bay stays within the local waters and is not exported to the ocean.

The study suggests that the Bay acts as a catchall for plastics, with about 94% of microplastics staying in the system, most likely on or along the shores. Only 5% of the particles were carried from the Bay to the ocean, and 1% remained suspended in the water column.

In 2020, Maryland produced nearly 12 million tons of solid waste, with 13 percent attributed from plastics, including plastic bags.

Research concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise in carryout services and grocery store visits, resulting in a 30% increase in plastic waste in 2020.

My home state of Maryland has taken many steps to combat plastic pollution.

In September 2020, Maryland made history by becoming the first state to enact a ban on expanded polystyrene foodware— the single-use plastic foam that is often used for takeout cups and containers.

In October 2021, Baltimore effectively banned the use of plastic bags used for grocery and restaurant services, while also imposing a $0.05 bag tax on alternative bag use. 

The Salisbury City Council unanimously approved a ban on certain types of plastic bags that took effect on July 1, 2023.

These are all significant steps my home state has taken to address plastic waste.

 Plastics not only threaten the marine life like oysters and crabs that call the Chesapeake Bay home, but they can also negatively impact the economy and health of Maryland and the region at large.

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

The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act was signed into law in December 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 marine debris, including plastics, around the world.

        Congress must continue to take action to support legislation that seek to reduce the use and production of plastic and improve recycling facilities.

I am proud to be a cosponsor of The Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act, introduced by my colleague, Senator Dick Durbin.

Last year, I was privileged to lead a bipartisan delegation to Dubai for COP28.During this summit, we emphasized that the United States is concerned about the impacts of climate change and is ready to continue taking action to combat it.

At the summit, Under-secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme warned of the climate implications of plastics to our coastal ecosystems, and oceans.

He urged the plastic industry to find non-plastic alternatives for products to help the environment.

When Earth Day was first celebrated, the topic of environmental protection was not as partisan as it is today. Our focus should be on passing legislation that works to protect and preserve our Earth. We see the evidence before us; the longevity of our Earth is at stake. 

While Earth Day only comes around once a year, it should be celebrated every day. We must not forget the responsibility we have to protect our planet.

On this Earth Day, I celebrate the progress we have made so far and ask that we reaffirm our commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainable development.”