California One Step Closer to Banning Microbeads
Legislation to ban plastic microbeads commonly used in personal care products from being used in products such as facial scrubs, soaps and toothpaste passed the California State Assembly Friday on a 58-11 vote. The legislation, AB 888, authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) and first sponsored in 2014 by LA based environmental organization the 5 Gyres Institute, would set up the strongest protections in the country against the use of these unnecessary and toxic additives.
“This is an incredibly exciting time for California, and for 5 Gyres,” said Dr. Marcus Eriksen, 5 Gyres’ director of research and the first U.S. scientist to document microbeads in U.S. waters.
“When we first detected high levels of plastic microbeads in Lake Erie in 2012, we never imagined that this scientific finding would result in a national legislative campaign. This important step towards a victory in California sends a strong signal that the public sector can drive major design changes at the corporate manufacturing level, to protect our national waters and our health.”
The 5 Gyres Institute, an LA-based non-profit organization dedicated to engaging people in policy and design solutions to plastic pollution, conducted the first scientific research on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes in 2012, in partnership with SUNY Fredonia. On this expedition, the team documented high levels of microplastics in Lake Erie that they later traced back to personal care products.
“We found one sample with 1,600 plastic particles, more plastics by count than any of our ocean samples spanning over 50,000 miles,” said Dr. Eriksen. “These particles were all roughly the same shape and size—we had never seen anything like it. We compared these to the plastic beads found in facial scrubs and body washes, and there it was. With this finding, we were able to begin working on the clear solution—banning these unnecessary toxic plastics from products deigned to be washed down the drain.”
Microbeads have emerged as a pervasive form of pollution in our waterways and marine environment, contributing approximately 38 tons of plastic annually. The tiny particles are prevalent in ocean debris piles, the Great Lakes, and were found in the Los Angeles River last year. Most microobeads are not biodegradable and absorb various toxins such as DDT, PCBs (flame retardants) and other industrial chemicals and are ingested or absorbed by a variety of marine life and other mammals. Because fish ingest these particles and absorb the toxins in their flesh, many in the scientific community also worry about the impacts on the fish, crabs and shellfish that humans eat.
Though they seem tiny, the size of microbeads is actually the biggest problem. Plastic microbeads used as exfoliants are too small to be recovered through most wastewater treatment plants, and wash directly down the drain, or are discharged into the environment through combined sewage overflow. As a result, these plastic microbeads can we washed into rivers, lakes and ultimately oceans, where they threaten marine ecosystems via the food web. A single product can contain as much as 350,000 polyethylene or polypropylene microbeads.
Many fish species, including fish that humans harvest for food, have been known to ingest micro-plastic particles and the toxins absorbed in those plastics can transfer to the fish tissue, becoming increasingly concentrated as they work their way up the food chain to wind up ultimately on our dinner plate.
“This is not a problem without a solution. Plastic microbeads are not essential to personal care products," said Rep. Bloom. "Safe and natural alternatives are available such as walnut husks, pecan shells, apricot shells, and cocoa beans. Some brands already use environmentally safe alternatives. However, there are still a number of companies who are holding out. By passing this bill, we will take the first step in phasing out these damaging products completely in California and paving the way for other states and countries to follow our lead."
Lisa Kaas Boyle, Esq., 5 Gyres policy director and one of the authors of the legislation, states, “AB 888 is a perfect example of 5 Gyres’ mission to conduct the best science, craft effective legal policy solutions based on our research, and find the best representatives of the people to carry the legislation through the halls of government to become law. We identified Richard Bloom because of his long history of environmental stewardship on the California Coastal Commission, as a city council member and mayor of Santa Monica and in his current office as representative of the people of the 50th District of California.”
Californians Against Waste, Clean Water Action, Breast Cancer Fund, California League of Conservation Voters, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment California, Heal the Bay, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy, Sierra Club and Story of Stuff are a sample of the many other groups in support of the bill.
AB 888 has now passed the State Assembly and must now pass the State Senate before going to Gov. Jerry Brown for his consideration.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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