Press Release

July 18, 2023
Cardin, Durbin, Merkley Introduce Legislation to Prohibit Plastic Pollution in Waterways
The Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act would prohibit the discharge of plastic pellets into waterways

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), also a member of the Senate EPW committee, today introduced the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act, which would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) to prohibit the discharge of plastic pellets and other pre-production plastic into waterways from facilities and sources that make, use, package, or transport pellets.  The pellets are being consumed by fish and marine life—and in turn, humans—and create additional damage to ecosystems.

“Plastics and other pollution pose an urgent threat to the health of oceans and watersheds including the Chesapeake Bay,” said Senator Cardin. “Ending plastic pellet pollution in our waterways will help us address one of the most pressing issues impacting the health of our environment.”

“Only nine percent of all plastics end up being recycled, with some of the waste ending up in landfills or incinerated—and far too much of it finding its way into our rivers, lakes, and oceans,” Senator Durbin said. “The Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act is an important step in addressing the plastic problem that is plaguing our nation’s waterways and wildlife.”

“Plastic pellets have been found to be one of the largest direct sources of pollution to the oceans by weight.  This is inexcusable,” said Senator Merkley. “The Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act is part of the solution to keep America’s waterways free from plastic pollution.”

U.S. Representative Mike Levin (D-CA-49) will introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Plastic pellets, or nurdles, are the pre-production building blocks of nearly all plastic goods.  Due to the low cost of producing these pellets, they are often washed down drains or dumped if they come in contact with other materials like dust and dirt.  They are also often spilled both in the shipping and production process—eventually finding their way into our waterways.

Approximately 250,000 tons of plastic pellets end up in the oceans annually. Plastic pollution has become so prevalent, a recent study showed that the average person ingests approximately five grams of plastic each week – the equivalent of a credit card.

It is estimated that by 2025, more than 4.5 billion pounds of plastic packaging will be used annually.