Former Savannah ocean conservation leader aided in national parks phase-out of single-use plastics

By David Pendered

A conservation leader formerly based in Savannah performed a significant role in establishing the new federal rule that’s to reduce plastic wastes in national parks and on all federal lands and waters.

The U.S. Department of Interior has ordered a phased ban of single-use plastics in national parks and on federal lands, effective end of 2032. (Photo via Oceana, Credit: Nova Southeastern University, Broward County Sea Conservation Program)

Paulita Bennett-Martin helped lobby for the planned reduction in her job as federal policy manager for Oceana. Bennett-Martin assumed the national post in late 2021.

Previously, Bennett-Martin served as Georgia field representative for Oceana, a non-profit organization formed in 2001 to advocate for ocean conservation.

From Savannah, Bennett-Martin led successful campaigns that resulted in coastal governments agreeing to oppose oil drilling off the Georgia coast; raised awareness of the need for greater protections from freighters and fishermen for the endangered North American right whales, which calve off the Georgia coast; brought U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to Georgia to discuss coastal climate issues; and sought curbs on the use of single-use plastics.

Oceana was among the organizations that scored a major win June 8, which is World Ocean Day. The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a phase-out of single-use plastics distributed by the department or its concessionaires, effective the end of 2032. Order No. 3047 comes on the heels of poll by Oceana, with results released Jan. 13 that showed 82 percent of Americans would support a ban to prevent the government and its vendors from distributing single-use plastics in national parks.

Bennett-Martin responded to a question about her direct involvement in the issuance of federal rule by putting at the forefront the elected officials, and Oceana, who seek to curb single-use plastics:

  • “Oceana is pleased to see all the movement on plastics by our national decision makers. From the U.S. Department of the Interior announcing the phase out of single use plastics in our national parks and other public lands to multiple bills in Congress like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act, and Reducing Waste in National Parks Act, it’s apparent our leaders realize we have a huge plastic pollution problem and that we need to reduce single use plastic now.”

This response is similar to one Bennett-Martin provided in June 2021, when Emory University signed a “Break Free from Plastics Pledge.” Emory leaders, students and Oceana reached the accord to phase out unnecessary single-use plastics at the Atlanta and Oxford campuses. Bennett-Martin issued a statement that focused on the success of students, and observed only parenthetically: “My former intern led the charge on this, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s order identifies several environmental challenges created by single-use plastics. One paragraph observes:

  • “Plastics, including unnecessary and easily substituted single-use plastic products, are devastating fish and wildlife around the world. Our oceans are downstream of all pollution sources, so they bear the brunt of the impacts: of the more than 300 million tons of plastic produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications, at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and plastic makes up 80 percent of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. Marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and death, and plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.”