Session Chairs: Angela T. Howe, Surfrider Foundation; Melissa Gates, Surfrider Foundation

This session will feature the local battles from the main coastal regions of the U.S., California statewide and regional collaboration and federal success with the Microbeads bill.

Since 2010, there have been hundreds of local laws, dozens of state laws and a handful of federal bills focused on addressing marine debris in the U.S.  Sometimes these efforts are similar, but in other instances there are important variations in laws that address the same problem.  In California, the number of local bag bans that were disparate in form and coverage led to a greater need for a statewide law and uniformity for grocers and other merchants.

This panel will investigate the different types of local laws that have been passed around the nation, including Maui County’s recent polystyrene foam foodware ban, the City of Coral Gables local foam and bag regulations despite allegations of state preemption, and the interplay between local and state law in Massachusetts and Oregon. Finally, the panel will discuss how an initially controversial issue, like plastic microbeads found in personal care products, can be successfully addressed by a bi-partisan effort at the federal level.  Consequently, the U.S. has many laws put into place, at every level of government, to address the growing problem of marine debris and offers great examples of what can by done by various levels of decision-makers.



  • –      Angela T. Howe, Surfrider Foundation
  • –      Melissa Gates, Surfrider Foundation
  • –      Charlie Plybon, Surfrider Foundation
  • –      Lauren Blickley, Swell Consulting



Local, State and Federal Ocean Litter Laws from around the Nation

Authors: Angela Howe (Surfrider Foundation, United States), Brad Verter (Mass Green Network), Charlie Plybon (Surfrider Foundation (Oregon)), Corali Lopez-Castro (INVITED) (Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton)

In the United States, ocean litter has been addressed at the local, state and national level through law-making efforts. Marine debris laws can take the form of local ordinances, statewide laws or even federal legislation. For instance, one of the most recent local laws aiming at the regulation of marine plastic pollution is the ban on foam food containers passed by the Hawaii County Council on September 22, 2017. Statewide, the California bag ban was passed in 2014 and affirmed by a voter referendum in 2016 with 7.2 million votes in favor. Finally, in December 2015, President Barack Obama signed bipartisan federal legislation to enact a phase-out of plastic microbeads found in personal care products.

Sometimes these laws correspond and complement each other; however, at other times there is a battle of jurisdiction for the right to govern. In the latter instance, there have been several statewide preemption efforts to take away local home rule over plastic pollution reduction ordinances, now affecting 10 U.S. states. For instance, in Florida currently there is a court battle over whether the town of Coral Gables expanded polystyrene foam ordinance was preempted by statewide legislation concerning product packaging and/or legislation regarding the distribution of “auxiliary containers”. On the other hand, a good local idea can take hold and spread to multiple localities before being taken up at the statewide level. For instance, the California statewide bag ban was not passed until over 150 local municipalities (and approximately 1/3 of the state’s population) were covered by a single-use bag ban. The successes and challenges in passing effective marine debris legislation can be instructive for future law-making efforts in localities, states, regions and countries worldwide.