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Congress Bans Plastic Microbeads, Bill Heads to President Obama's Desk

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Congress Bans Plastic Microbeads, Bill Heads to President Obama's Desk

On Friday, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill phasing out the manufacture of beauty products with plastic microbeads by July 1, 2017, and the sale of such products by July 1, 2018. The Microbead Free Waters Act (H.R. 1321) bans all plastic microbeads in beauty products, including those made from so-called “biodegradable plastics,” the majority of which do not biodegrade in marine environments.

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill phasing out the manufacture of beauty products with plastic microbeads by July 1, 2017, and the sale of such products by July 1, 2018. The bill now heads to President Obama's desk. Photo credit: Alliance for the Great Lakes

“Our oceans have been choking on these tiny plastic microbeads for way too long," Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said. "This is a huge and important step toward protecting fish, birds and other ocean wildlife hurt by plastic pollution. I applaud the Senate for following California’s lead and voting to eliminate this pointless and harmful source of plastic pollution.”

The Microbead Free Waters Act, introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), will prevent 1.4 trillion plastic microbeads from entering U.S. waterways each year. Plastic microbeads—designed to be washed down the drain and too small to be reliably captured by wastewater treatment facilities—pollute lakes, rivers and oceans.

Once in the environment, plastic microbeads concentrate toxins such as pesticides and flame retardants on their surface, which may then transfer to the tissue of fish that mistake microbeads for food. A recent study found that one quarter of fish found at California fish markets had ingested plastic. One tube of exfoliating facewash can contain more than 350,000 microbeads.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 1321 earlier this month. The bill now heads to President Obama's desk for his approval.

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The Forest Vixen's CC Photo Stream. Flickr / CC BY 2.0


Spring is coming. And soon, tree swallows will start building nests. But as the climate changes, the birds are nesting earlier in the spring.


"It's getting warmer overall. They're thinking, OK, it's a good time to breed, to lay my eggs," says Lily Twining of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany.

She says that despite recent warming, late-season cold snaps remain common. Those cold snaps can harm newborn chicks.

Hatchlings cannot regulate their body temperature, so they are vulnerable to hypothermia. And the insects they eat stop flying in cold weather, potentially leaving the chicks to starve.

"These chicks are growing very, very fast," Twining says. "They have very high energy demands, so… if they don't get a lot of that good high-quality food during this pretty specific time… that's when these cold weather events seem to be most devastating."

For example, data from Ithaca, New York, shows that a single cold snap in 2016 killed more than 70% of baby tree swallows.

"And there have been more and more of these severe cold weather die-off events for these tree swallows as they've been breeding earlier and earlier over the past 40 or so years," Twining says.

So for these songbirds, earlier springs can come with devastating consequences.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy / ChavoBart Digital Media

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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