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Water: Marine Debris

Laws, Regulations, Treaties

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Assessing and Monitoring Floatable Debris Basic Information Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee International Coastal Cleanup Laws and Regulations Marine Debris Factsheet Marine Debris Home Marine Debris Impacts Marine Debris Sources Monitoring and Research National Marine Debris Monitoring Program Marine Debris Prevention Toolkit Prevention, Control, and Reduction What You Can Do Other Resources

Related "Laws" Links:  General Water | Wetlands | Oceans, Coasts, and Estuaries | Watersheds | Marine Debris

Key federal statutes governing marine debris in the United States

On this page:  Overview | Land-Based Laws | Ocean-Based Laws | Treaties


EPA develops regulations for federal laws that directly or indirectly deal with marine debris resulting from land-based and ocean-based sources. EPA also is involved in supporting and implementing international agreements through relevant domestic laws and regulations. EPA addresses marine debris through the following list of marine debris laws. For a broader list of federal laws that address marine debris, please review the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee Report.

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Land-Based Laws


The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act amended the Clean Water Act in 2000. It is designed to reduce the risk of disease to users of the Nation's coastal recreation waters. The act authorizes the EPA to award program development and implementation grants to eligible states, territories, tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreational waters, including the Great Lakes that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for developing and implementing programs to notify the public of the potential for exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. The act also authorizes EPA to provide technical assistance to States and local governments for the assessment and monitoring of floatable materials.

Clean Water Act

Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs): Under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, states, territories, and authorized tribes are required to develop lists of impaired waters. These are waters that are too polluted or otherwise degraded to meet the water quality standards set by states, territories, or authorized tribes. The law requires that these jurisdictions establish priority rankings for waters on the lists and develop TMDLs for these waters. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still safely meet water quality standards. 

Over the past decade, EPA has approved TMDLs for trash for several watersheds in the Los Angeles area, and in 2010, set limits for Anacostia River watershed in the Washington, D.C. area. These impaired waters are now required to have watershed-based plans to eliminate trash from entering the watershed. In the Anacostia River watershed, for example, the Maryland Department of the Environment is in the process of implementing a 5-year National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit.Exit EPA Disclaimer

Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990

Pollution Prevention Act

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

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Ocean-Based Laws

Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act; 33 U.S.C. § 1914 - 33 U.S.C. § 1915

The Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act (MPPRCA) requires EPA, in consultation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to study the adverse effects of improper disposal of plastics on the environment and on waste disposal, and various methods to reduce or eliminate such adverse effects. MPPRCA also requires EPA, NOAA, and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to work together to assess the feasibility of using volunteer groups in monitoring floatable debris on the Nation's coastlines.

Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (PDF) (8 pp, 43K, About PDF)

The Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act (MDRPRA) was passed to establish programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to help identify, determine sources of, assess, reduce, and prevent marine debris and its adverse impacts on the marine environment and navigation safety. MDRPRA also re-authorized the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee.

On December 20, 2012, President Obama signed the Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2012 (PDF) (6pp, 126K) to re-authorize and amend the MDRPRA to address the adverse impacts of marine debris on the United States economy, the marine environment, and navigation safety.

Shore Protection Act

The Shore Protection Act (SPA) is applicable to transportation of municipal and commercial wastes in coastal waters. It is designed to minimize trash, medical debris, and other harmful material from being deposited into coastal waters as a result of inadequate waste handling procedures by vessels transporting waste. EPA, in consultation with the Coast Guard, is responsible for developing regulations governing the load, securing, offloading, and cleaning up of such wastes from waste sources, reception facilities, and vessels.

Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act

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Treaties and international agreements also play a role in preventing and reducing marine debris. EPA is involved in the implementation of these agreements through relevant domestic laws and regulations.

MARPOL Annex V  Exit EPA Disclaimer

London Convention

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