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This article was written by Blake Kopcho 

Last week the California State Assembly passed California’s microbead ban, AB 888, with bipartisan support. Cosponsored by the 5 Gyres Institute, AB 888 would phase out plastic microbeads from consumer care products, stopping a major contributor of plastic pollution. This vital bill must now pass the State Senate before going to Governor Jerry Brown for his consideration.

With microbead bans popping up (and becoming law) in states all over the country, a federal ban in the works, and major multinational companies pledging to voluntarily remove plastic microbeads from their products, it appears that polluting microbeads are destined to go the way of the Dodo! If only it were that simple.

Legislation written by corporations creates a truck-sized loophole allowing companies to replace traditional plastic microbeads with more plastic.

Microbead bans have already passed in several states, including Maine, New Jersey and Colorado. These bills are based on model legislation from Illinois written by the consumer care products industry. By subtly tweaking the definition of a plastic microbead, the industry has created a truck-sized loophole allowing companies to replace traditional plastic microbeads, made of polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), with so called “biodegradable plastics”.

Below are the top 5 things you need to know about the biodegradable plastics loophole; what it means for microbead bans, your facewash, and the oceans.

1) “Biodegrading” Shouldn’t Take Forever

Microbead laws, like the one passed in Illinois, don’t define biodegradable. On a long enough time scale, everything biodegrades. By not indicating over what time period a plastic particle is required to breakdown, the law paves the way for companies to legally justify using pretty much anything as a replacement product. The Illinois law also contains a highly technical definition of “plastic” that creates another loophole for the type of plastic found in cigarette filters (cellulose acetate).

2) There Are No Proven Safe Biodegradable Plastics

Currently, there is no “biodegradable” plastic that has been proven safe for the environment. Promising materials exist, such as PHAs (Polyhydroxy- alkanoates) which are broken down relatively quickly by bacteria in aquatic environments. But before we start flushing a new type of plastic microbead down the drain and into our waterways in staggering quantities, we need a clear understanding of what its impacts will be on the natural environment.

3) Corporations Won’t Adopt Biodegradable Products by Themselves

Major manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson, Proctor and Gamble, and Unilever have pledged to phase out PE microbeads from their facial scrubs, toothpastes and shampoos, but none has committed to switching to a truly degradable alternative. The bioplastics loophole would give companies free reign to develop blends of potentially dangerous plastics to use as a replacement– fundamentally undermining the intent of microbead bans.

4) The Bioplastics Loophole Is Abhorrent Greenwashing

By supporting microbead bans at the state and federal level, corporations appear as environmentally friendly- but in reality,corporations only support microbead bans that contain the biodegradable loophole, and are aggressively lobbying against comprehensive bans in states like New York, Minnesota and Connecticut.

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5) AB 888 Is the Only Way to Ban ALL Plastics From Consumer Care Products in California

Johnson & Johnson has publicly denounced the bill, calling it “overly restrictive”- code for “it won’t let us replace plastic with more plastic, so we oppose it”. That’s why 5 Gyres is working tirelessly to pass AB888. Because it’s prohibitively expensive for companies to ship different products to various states, a strong California microbead ban will ripple through the states and reduce plastic in our water throughout the nation.

Please help support the passing of microbead legislation in California!

WRITE A LETTER TO YOUR LEGISLATOR

(This article originally appeared on 5 Gyres. It has been reprinted here with permission.)

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