In February of this year, Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom introduced a bill that would have prohibited the sale of products containing microbeads in California. It failed to pass the state legislature by the narrowest margin: A single vote. Next year, say environmentalists, will be different.

“I think we will win this year,” Stiv Wilson, associate director of the 5 Gyres Institute, recently said. “We’re going over drafts right now and building a broader coalition to sponsor this.”

In 2015, Assemblyman Bloom will sponsor a similar bill and, this time, advocates believe, it will have a much greater chance for support.

One reason is because the interests of environmentalists and policymakers will be undivided by environmental initiatives. This year, after much contentious political and industry wrangling, California became the first state in the union to ban single-use plastic bags from grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and liquor stores.

A sampling of microplastic debris recovered from the ocean (Source: Creative Commons)

A sampling of microplastic debris recovered from the ocean (Source: Creative Commons)

Plastic microbeads are commonly found in many exfoliating soaps and cleansers in a variety of cosmetic products. Unlike natural ingredients, they rarely cause allergic reactions and are easy to manufacture. Unfortunately, due to the efforts of organizations like the 5 Gyres Institute and SUNY Fredonia, we now know that these microbeads pass right through water filtration centers and into our watersheds and oceans. Plastic, unlike organic matter, does not biodegrade; instead, it splits into smaller and smaller fragments known as microplastic.

In an interview with 5 Gyres co-founder Anna Cummins, Planet Experts learned that trawls from the Great Lakes recovered an average of 43,000 plastic particles per square kilometer. Recently, researchers have also discovered microplastic pollution in North American rivers. And while the environmental impacts of microbeads and other types of microplastic are still being studied, it is well-documented that plastic can adsorb chemical toxins such as mercury, DDT and PCBs, transferring those chemicals into fish and into the humans who eat them.

In June, Illinois became the first state to pass a complete microbead ban. Starting December 31, 2017, the manufacture and sale of microbead-containing products will be prohibited in the state.

In California, the Personal Care Products Council, an industry trade group, criticized Assemblyman Bloom’s previous bill for being too “aggressive and unrealistic” in its timeline. A bill modeled on the Illinois ban would give the industry more flexibility – though environmental advocates are less enthusiastic about such an extension.

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