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Photo: vaidehi shah / Flickr

I had the opportunity to talk to two incredible women fighting the battle against plastic pollution: Lisa Kaas Boyle and Dianna Cohen. They are co-founders of the Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC), a global alliance of organizations working for a world free of plastic pollution. In addition, Lisa is an environmental attorney helping with relevant legislation, Executive Director of WeTap, and a Planet Expert. Dianna is the CEO of PPC. Both are actively involved in the fight against plastic pollution, holding many campaigns and speaking engagements to raise awareness, create action and bring change to this global problem.

A study predicts that there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. This is a global catastrophe that everyone needs to address and be a part of the solution. Not to mention the other health hazards for humans and marine life — plastic and polystyrene leach toxins and can cause a slew of health problems.

My interview with Lisa and Dianna was published in May of 2015. Almost two years later, what we spoke about is still pertinent and we continue to talk about the very same subjects, trying to move them forward. It’s a slow process, but here are some wins since the interview:

  • After opposing sides — mainly the plastic industry — tried to overturn SB270, the California plastic-bag ban from 2014, we finally won in November 2016 with Prop 67 banning plastic bags in the state of California. Woo-Hoo! California is the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic bags and hopefully more will follow.
  • The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (H.R. 1321) — which bans microbeads — was signed into law by President Obama and will take effect starting July 1, 2017. Some companies have already started the phase out. The UK is set to follow.
  • Then there is Polystyrene! In June of 2016, San Francisco voted to ban the sale of polystyrene starting in January of 2017. Polystyrene is often called by its trademarked brand name: Styrofoam. It only refers to the polystyrene foam used for thermal insulation and craft applications — not the polystyrene we use on a daily basis, like coffee cups and food packaging.

As you can see, change is happening. This movement of stopping single-use plastics is on a roll.

What’s next on the agenda?

  • Moving the polystyrene ban to other cities and states.
  • The plastic bag ban across the U.S. A national ban!
  • A regulation or ban on plastic straws, especially on beaches. Recycling across America, companies being accountable for recovery and so on.

As you can see there is no shortage of work and manpower needed to get these bans, bills and laws considered, in the system and implemented.

In the meantime what can we do as citizens? Keep with the 4 R’s in the correct order: Reduce, Reuse, Refuse and then Recycle. To get involved and learn more, check out the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Refill Revolution

Refill Revolution is a movement to change America’s disposable mindset and stop the negative impacts our throw-away behavior has on resources, the environment and the health of living things. We encourage individuals, industry and civic leaders to rise up and reject single-use disposable cups, bottles, bags, food containers and utensils — and to adopt more practical, sustainable and healthy alternatives that are designed to be reused thousands of times.

California Bag Ban

In 2014, the California legislature passed SB270 (Padilla), a law which would ban single-use plastic carry out bags and require merchants to charge customers a 10-cent fee to purchase disposable paper bags. Shoppers could avoid paying the fee by bringing their own reusable bags. The law has not been implemented because out of state plastic bag manufacturers from Texas, New Jersey, and South Carolina gathered enough signatures to place Prop 67 — a referendum to overturn the ban and stalling the law by requiring the “public” to approve the plastic bag ban before it could go into effect — on the ballot. But with “yes” votes on Prop 67 being in favor of supporting the bag ban, we finally won on November 8, 2016 with the “yes” votes carrying Prop 67. California becomes the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic bags. We hope that this will start a movement for other states. Hawaii is the only other state that has a bag ban in place, but there are differences between the counties.

The Microbead Ban

H.R. 1321, The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, was signed into law by President Obama. It’s a bipartisan bill that prohibits selling and distributing products containing microbeads. The bill is intended to protect the nation’s waterways and will take effect starting July 1, 2017.

Microbeads, sometimes called microscrubbers, are made of plastic and do not dissolve. These are teeny-tiny pieces of plastic that are wreaking havoc on our environment, aquatic life and in turn… us. According to the bill, a microbead is any solid plastic particle that is less than 5 millimeters and is used for the purpose of exfoliating or cleansing. Too small to be captured by water treatment systems (they are the size of a pinhead) they’re ending up in our bodies of water. Microbeads can be found in our facial cleansers, body washes, even toothpaste. Each tube can contain up to 350,000 microbeads. They provide an exfoliating sensation for users and are designed to wash down drains. A study reported that 8 trillion microbeads were entering the country’s aquatic habitats daily. Those tiny plastic microbeads you’ve been rubbing on your face are now outlawed in the United States. YES!

The Polystyrene Ban

San Francisco has just unanimously voted to ban the sale of polystyrene products — also commonly called Styrofoam — by 2017. Polystyrene is the petroleum-based plastic foam that’s used to make coffee cups, packaging peanuts and a whole range of other disposable items. And though cities have begun cracking down on its use, this is the most extensive ban placed on the material in the U.S. to date.

Styrofoam insulation products won’t be covered by these new rules, but they will ban the sale of all polystyrene food packaging, packing peanuts, take-away containers, coffee cups, foam dock floatings, mooring buoys and pool toys as of January 1, 2017. By July 1, 2017, it will also be illegal to sell polystyrene fish and meat trays — like the ones you currently see in supermarkets. So it’s a legitimate step towards San Francisco’s goal of being a waste-free city by 2020.

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