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microbeadsA bill that would have banned the sale of cosmetic products containing plastic microbeads has failed to pass the California state senate.

The bill, AB1699, fell just one vote short of the 21 vote majority required to become law. However, according to EcoWatch, the bill’s sponsors have been granted reconsideration, so if one absentee legislator is willing to vote on it, the bill will pass the Senate and return to the California Assembly for concurrence.

Plastic microbeads are common ingredients in exfoliating soaps and cleansers. Unfortunately, once they’re washed down the drain, the plastic easily slips through filters in wastewater treatment plants and is ejected into the ocean. The clear, non-biodegradable beads can then be mistaken for food by marine life.

Even when the beads do not harm creatures’ digestive systems, they are still in danger of absorbing toxins that can adhere to the plastic, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), nonylphenol, phenathrene and Triclosan. These toxins can then be passed on to the humans that consume them.

The microbead ban was first introduced to the California State Assembly in May by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom. The bill was based on model legislation crafted by the 5Gyres Institute, whose research in the Great Lakes was the first major breakthrough in understanding the level of microplastic concentration in the country’s waterways.

“There was an average of 43,000 plastic particles per square kilometer,” executive director of 5Gyres Anna Cummins told Planet Experts. The Institute’s plastic pollution research in 2012 and 2013 was the evidence used to convince New York and other states that microbeads needed to go. In June, Illinois became the first state to successfully pass a ban, and California didn’t seem far behind.

The California State Assembly passed AB1699 by a 45-10 vote. “Microbeads are a significant part of the debris accumulating in the Pacific Ocean and are also found at alarming levels in our local waterways,” said Assemblyman Bloom. “We have no choice but to eliminate this pollution at the source. Waiting will only compound the problem and the price of cleaning up.”

But the cosmetics industry lobbied hard to derail the ban. In an email to Planet Experts, co-founder of 5Gyres Dr. Marcus Eriksen says that the cosmetics lobby has created a “huge hurdle” for the bill.

“For them it’s less about what’s best for the ocean, and more about the cheapest way to make this issue go away,” he wrote. “But that’s been the problem all along. There is no ‘away’ in a Throw Away society. What we want is EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility), where a product that cannot be recovered from a customer is designed to be environmentally harmless. It’s about taking responsibility for the mess you create.”

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