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California Assembly Passes Historic Law to Remove Plastic Microbeads from Personal Care Products

In a historic vote yesterday, the California Assembly passed the Microplastic Nuisance Prevention Law to ban the sale and manufacturing of personal care products containing tiny, synthetic plastic microbeads. Thanks to 5 Gyres Institute, the group that authored the bill sponsored by Assembly Member Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), California sets a national precedent for holding companies liable for products that harm aquatic species and pollutes our water.

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“The passage of our bill by the California Assembly is a big win not only for California waters, but sets a national precedent for industry to take recoverability and recyclability seriously when formulating products," said Stiv Wilson, associate director of 5 Gyres who was responsible for coordinating the legislative effort. "We are past the tipping point with regard to plastic pollution in our waters and we’ll target any product for regulation, redesign or ban that has no sustainable end of life scenario. We’re on the offensive to protect our precious waters from mindless plastic pollution.”

“Passing the Assembly Floor is a big milestone for this bill," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom. "I am proud that my colleagues support our efforts to ensure that our waters are clean, getting plastic microbeads out of these products will eliminate a significant source of pollution.” 

Throughout the last several years, 5 Gyres and researchers from SUNY Fredonia discovered large quantities of plastic microbeads escaping wastewater treatment in several New York watersheds, the Great Lakes, Chicago River and Los Angeles River. In 2013, 5 Gyres and SUNY published a peer-reviewed paper in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, believed to be the first micro-plastic pollution survey of the Great Lakes Region, documenting high concentrations of plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes.

“We found concentrations of plastic microbeads in Lake Erie that rival some of the highest concentrations in the world’s oceans," said Dr. Marcus Eriksen, co-founder and research director for 5 Gyres who authored the Great Lakes paper. "Looking to our home waters in the Los Angeles River, we found microbeads there too. Unfortunately, the more we look, the more we find plastic in our environment.”

The high concentrations of microplastics in Lake Erie accounted for about 90 percent of the total plastics found. Polyethylene and polypropylene beads were found in the samples, as well as particles of aluminum silicate, or coal ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants.

In addition to 5 Gyres there were dozens of California based organizations dedicated to the passage of this bill, including Clean Water Action and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

“By passing AB 1699 (Bloom), the California Assembly made a bold move today to reduce the contamination of fish and other marine life with pollutant-covered plastic debris," said Miriam Gordon, director of Clean Water Action. "This is a sensible easy bill to vote for as there is no down side- no job loss or significant impact to California businesses and we hope to see the Senate exercise similar good judgment.”

The Microplastic Nuisance Prevention Law will go a long way to protect our watersheds from poorly designed products, including products containing microplastics that are designed to go down the drain and into the environment. 

“Who wants to wash their face with plastics? Microbeads are completely unnecessary, as safer, natural alternatives that don’t pollute the water already exist," said Janet Nudelman, director for Campaign For Safe Cosmetics (Breast Cancer Fund). "Consumer pressure has led multinational cosmetics companies to stop using microbeads, including Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, but we need laws on the books to make sure their commitments stick. Eliminating microbeads brings us one step closer to cleaning up the beauty aisle.”

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