4 States Working to Ban Microbeads
There are currently numerous state bills introduced around the country focused on curbing marine plastic pollution. One notably popular subject this session is that of microbeads, which are teeny tiny bits of plastic put in consumer products such as toothpastes and facial scrubs, which (likely unbeknownst to consumers!) wash down the drain, are frequently not captured by wastewater treatment facilities (because they’re too small, do not biodegrade, and float), simply pass through wastewater treatment facilities, and eventually enter our waterways and pollute our oceans. These microplastics are found in all ocean gyres, bays, gulfs and seas around the world.
This is problematic for a multitude of reasons. First, plastic does not biodegrade into elements or compounds commonly found in nature like other organic materials, but instead, photodegrades into smaller pieces of plastic causing pollution that is virtually impossible to remediate. Second, microplastic debris absorbs toxic, environmentally persistent chemicals such as DDT, PCBs, PAHs, and flame retardants found in our waterways. In 2011, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association found that plastic debris accumulates pollutants such as PCBs up to 100,000 to 1,000,000 times the levels found in seawater.
Thus, aside from the negative effects of plastic consumption by marine life such as intestinal clogging and starvation, fish can become contaminated by the plastic’s absorbed toxins, which bioaccumulate up the food chain. These toxins pose dangerous threats to humans and wildlife who consume them. Microplastics? Megaproblem.
Currently, there are at least 15 microbead bills pending at various stages across the country. Below is a sampling of some of these bills. While, as explained below, Surfrider Foundation has concerns associated with some of the bills, Surfrider is hopeful that states will carefully draft bills that will address the very serious threats that microplastic pollution poses to our coastal resources and water quality.
Connecticut currently has four microbeads bills in the works: House Bill (H.B.) 6081, H.B. 5206,H.B. 5403, and H.B. 5727. On March 10, 2015, Surfrider Foundation submitted testimony to the Joint Committee on the Environment supporting the bills, with amendments. Surfrider’s concerns with the bills primarily focus on any exceptions or exemptions for “over the counter” drugs or “biodegradable” particles. First, there must not be any exemptions for over the counter products, as this creates a huge industry loophole, rendering any microbeads ban futile, since the number of over the counter drugs is incredibly broad, and contains numerous types of products such as fluoride and whitening toothpastes, acne scrubs, moisturizing cleansers, and wrinkle creams, which are the exact kinds of products which typically utilize microbeads. Secondly, any exemptions for biodegradable particles are concerning, because “biodegradable” can be a misleading term. Any microbead legislation should only include a biodegradable exception if the term is carefully defined in a way to ensure that only products which are truly able to break down into natural elements in the marine environment or in wastewater treatment are considered biodegradable.
Recently, on March 18, Surfrider Foundation submitted testimony in strong support of Hawaii’s microbead bill, H.B. 621, with amendments, to the Energy and Environment Committee, and Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee. The bill gradually (i.e. between December 31, 2017 and December 31, 2019) phases in the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of personal care products that contain “synthetic plastic microbeads.” “Synthetic plastic microbead” means any intentionally added non-biodegradable solid plastic particle measuring less than five millimeters in size and used to exfoliate or cleanse in a rinse-off product. Violations are punishable by civil penalties up to $1,000 for a first violation, and up to $2,500 for subsequent violations.
As noted above, this microbead definition, which excludes “non-biodegradable” particles is potentially problematic. Thus, the Surfrider Foundation proposed in its testimony that the legislators must either remove the vague, misleading term “non-biodegradable” in the definition of “synthetic plastic microbead” and replace it with “non-compostable,” or define “biodegradable” as “capable of decomposing back into natural elements.”
Similarly, in Oregon, H.B. 3478 was first read March 2, 2015, and was referred to the Energy and Environment Committee March 9, 2015. The bill phases in the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of personal care products and over the counter drugs that contain synthetic plastic microbeads. Currently, the definition of “synthetic plastic microbead” means “a solid plastic particle that a manufacturer intentionally incorporates into a personal care product and that: (A) Measures less than five millimeters in diameter; (B) Is not biodegradable; (C) The manufacturer intends as a method for exfoliating skin or otherwise cleaning the human body; and (D) The manufacturer intends for the consumer to rinse off from the body after use. Thus, the definition excludes particles which are “biodegradable.” As noted above, this is potentially vague and problematic, and any microbead legislation should ensure that the ban applies to all microplastic particles, and that only products which are truly able to break down into natural elements are excepted. The Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of the Oregon Surfrider Foundation Chapter Network, and the individual Oregon chapters have expressed these concerns in personal letters to their state legislators, and Surfrider Foundation staff will be participating in a work group on this bill in the future.
Meanwhile, Washington’s microbead bill, Senate Bill (S.B.) 5609 passed the Senate unanimously on March 11, 2015. In the House, the bill had its first reading and was referred to the House Committee on the Environment on March 13. The Committee recently held a public hearing on the bill on March 23, 2015.
Unfortunately, S.B. 5609 passed the Senate with a potential “biodegradable” loophole, similar to Hawaii and Oregon’s microbeads bills. The definition of the banned “synthetic plastic microbead” excludes biodegradable particles (i.e., synthetic plastic microbead means “an intentionally added nonbiodegradable solid plastic particle measuring less than five millimeters in size and used to exfoliate or cleanse in a rinse-off product”), which, again, could be problematic without further clarifying what is biodegradable and what is nonbiodegradable.
The Surfrider Foundation will continue to monitor these, and other proposed microbeads bills, and bring awareness to these issues such that legislators will be encouraged to craft effective bills that serve their intended purposes. Go here for more information on the dangers of marine plastic pollution, and on Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics campaign. Visit 5 Gyres I Want Plastic Off My Face information page to learn how you can get involved.
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Material Revolutions: Shirts Made from Shellfish, Biodegradable Rum Bottles and Reusable Fast Food Containers
In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.
1. Allbirds Shirts Made From Shellfish<p>Sustainable sneaker start-up <a href="https://www.allbirds.com/pages/apparel" target="_blank">Allbirds</a> is known for its thoughtfulness for consumers and the environment. The four-year-old shoe company has become hugely popular by creating comfortable shoes made from responsibly sourced materials like tencel and wool, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90565358/allbirds-new-clothing-line-includes-t-shirts-made-from-discarded-crab-shells" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>Recently, Allbirds launched its debut apparel line with garments for men and women made with eco-friendly materials that have a low carbon footprint, the report said.</p><p>Introduced along with the line is a new t-shirt material called "TrinoXO," which is made from wool and discarded snow crab shells from Canada's seafood industry, reported <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/20/sustainable-sneaker-start-up-allbirds-is-selling-sweaters-t-shirts.html" target="_blank">CNBC</a> and <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/20/business/allbirds-sustainable-apparel/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>. The shells are the "number two discarded resource on earth," Allbirds claims, reported <a href="https://www.menshealth.com/style/a34427585/allbirds-apparel-clothing-line-review/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Men's Health</a>.</p><p>"Discarded material is the holy grail when it comes to sustainable fibers," Jad Finck, Allbirds head of innovation and sustainability, told Fast Company. "It's far better for the environment than getting raw materials from scratch."</p><p>The shells have antimicrobial properties that keep clothes fresh even after hours of wear, without the need to add "extractive" materials like zinc or silver, Men's Health reported. This allows for longer periods of wear between washes, reducing clothes' environmental footprint.</p><p>"We knew we wanted to be a real brand, and had this vision that we'd be an innovation company first, and a product company second," co-founder Joey Zwillinger told <a href="https://www.vogue.com/article/allbirds-launches-clothing" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Vogue</a>. "And our products would solve problems for people in a natural way, and show the world that you don't have to compromise on the planet for amazing products."</p>
2. Bacardi Biodegradable Rum Bottles<p>By 2023, <a href="https://www.bacardi.com/us/en/" target="_blank">Bacardi</a> rum will be sold in 100% biodegradable bottles, <a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201021005281/en/Bacardi-First-in-Fight-Against-Plastic-Pollution-With-100-Biodegradable-Spirits-Bottle" target="_blank">Business Wire</a> reported.</p><p>The alcohol giant is collaborating with Danimer Scientific, a leading developer of biodegradable products, to create the new bottles using the natural oils of plant seeds such as palm, canola and soy, the report said.</p><p>According to <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/bacardi-to-make-100-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-124436841.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAE1Wl8ONNdph3ID8reylzGM8dbX575Mk96Jw6z3kHZaGjKCz_UgQgxH0Q1n3RNCzhOMBEZ7fAIf8iiOXLRtY9VVHNZsmb-w1VOJnGlzIbuwhmoBo_KOV4dba8FoWrkgmmwwCyQZnRoTL0Uda6HQ4pE5ewGWh2pwQzjS3gKAe1ynm" target="_blank">Yahoo Finance UK</a>, the new bottle will biodegrade in a wide range of environments, including compost, soil, freshwater and seawater. After 18 months, the bottle will disappear completely without leaving microplastics.</p><p>"Nodax PHA is one of the most promising eco-friendly materials in the world today because it delivers the biodegradability that consumers demand without losing the quality feel they receive from traditional plastic," said Danimer Scientific chief marketing & sustainability officer Scott Tuten, reported <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/bacardi-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-plastic-free-packaging" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Thrillist</a>. "The material provides the best of both worlds, and we look forward to working with Bacardí and incorporating PHA into their iconic packaging."</p><p>Bacardi is also creating a sustainably sourced paper bottle, Yahoo reported.</p><p>The manufacturing of both new bottle types will save energy over petroleum-based plastic ones. Bacardi plans to share the technology with competitors to help in the global fight against <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastic-pollution" target="_self">plastic pollution</a>, and aims to be 100% plastic-free by 2030, reported Thrillist.</p>
3. Burger King Reusable Fast Food Containers<p>Fast food giant <a href="https://www.bk.com/" target="_blank">Burger King</a> plans to launch reusable Whopper boxes and soda cups by next year. Partnering with TerraCycle's zero-waste packaging division Loop, Burger King will nudge customers to return the specialized packaging for hygienic washing and reuse, similar to how milk bottles used to be returned, reported <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/can-burger-kings-reusable-packaging-change-fast-food-forever-11603392581" target="_blank">MarketWatch</a>.</p><p>"During COVID, we have seen the environmental impact of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/air-pollution-food-delivery-plastic-waste-2648454324.html" target="_self">increased takeaway ordering</a>, which makes this initiative by Burger King all the more important," said Tom Szaky, TerraCycle and Loop CEO, according to MarketWatch.</p><p>Customers who don't feel comfortable can opt-out of the service, <a href="https://www.abc10.com/article/entertainment/television/programs/the-buzz-burger-king-to-test-reusable-packaging-in-2021/77-f01f1b70-05b7-436d-9971-a7dd6081249b" target="_blank">ABC News</a> reported. Those who are willing to try will be charged a small deposit upon purchase, and when the packaging is returned, they will receive a refund, reported <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/22/business/burger-king-reusable-packaging-sustainability/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>.</p><p>Burger King and TerraCycle are aiming for a container that can be used at least 100 times, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>"The benefit is, you're able to serve your guests without having to create that single-use item in the first place," Matt Banton, global head of innovation and sustainability at Burger King, told <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>. "This product is durable enough to go through the system multiple times, so it's ultimately reducing our environmental impact, and minimizing the amount of single-use packaging that we have to produce as well."</p><p>Burger King has also committed to sourcing 100% of its customer packaging from renewable, recycled or certified outlets, and recycling all customer packaging at its restaurants in the United States and Canada by 2025, reported CNN.</p>
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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