HB 15-1144 – Plastic Microbead Legislation – Did Colorado add Greenwashing to the list of legislative priorities?

Today Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 15-1144 a ban on solid synthetic microbeads added to cosmetic materials like face scrubs and body washes!  This bill is designed to keep tiny particles of plastic out of our waterways and local biospheres because of the negative impacts of plastic in these locations.   Colorado joins a variety of states, the first being Illinois, who are banning these microbeads.  In Illinois, efforts to introduce scientific legislation was attempted by members of the 5 Gyres Institute and the Ban the Bead Campaign.
Scientifically there are two primary problems with microbeads in our waters.  The first issue is that plastics are made with binding agents that  seep into the water when issues where the plastics leach chemicals into the water impacting the quality and purity of water.   The second issue is that these plastics are often viewed as food and are then consumed by insects and fish where two serious impacts occur.  Since plastic does not get digested by animals it accumulates in their bellies, filling up space for nutrient providing foods.  This accumulation causes a lack of space for real consumable, nutrient rich materials while leaching into the body of the animal that has consumed it.

Banning microbeads is a noble and valuable activity that should push regulations on corporations and manufacturers to be accountable and responsible for the materials they create and the environmental damage they do.  The scientific facts speak for themselves, microplastic is bad for the environment.  The Wisconsin Lakes Partnership dedicated the first three pages of it’s Fall 2014 newsletter exclusively to this topic.

The unfortunate truth is that the corporate lobby built a loophole into the rules they are placing upon themselves.  They introduced the legal terms of “Solid Synthetics” and “Nonbiodegradeable” as the specific type of plastic that would be banned.  There is scientific concern about this verbiage based on the fact that truly biodegradable plastic must have microbial breakdown.  This breakdown is only found in commercial or “hot compost” facilities.  In their 2015 publication in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, Michigan State University student’s published a study concluding:

“anaerobic and aerobic biodegradation are not recommended as feasible disposal routes for nonbiodegradable plastics containing any of the five tested biodegradation-promoting additives.” (Selke et all – 2015)

There are dozens of journal articles and news pieces that support this thought process leading educated consumers to understand that purported bioplastics are still going to enter our waters, causing deadly toxins to enter Colorado waters, causing the same concerns for bioaccumulation that  has proven to exist in our waters.  As this piece by Mother Jones from 2009 explains; “Real biodegradable plastic should be sent to a commercial composting facility, where it will spend its final days being eaten by microbes. But here’s the catch: In 2007, only 42 communities nationwide offered compost collection. (Seventeen were in California.) And though some biodegradable plastics can be recycled, no curbside recycling program will take them.”
The unfortunate part in the current movement to ban microbeads is that this effort is being led by corporations who wish to regulate themselves so they have the control and upper hand.  In an earlier post, I commented on how Johnson and Johnson, as well as other entities showed up to Colorado House Committee Meetings to introduce soft legislation that would offer a consistent level of legislation they could manipulate in order to have “consistent legislation”.   These organizations are already phasing out these plastics from their products., but want to allow for the weakest levels of legislation to be enacted.   This process began with Unilever in 2012 and has gained momentum as you can read about in this post on Beat The Microbead’s page.

This is exactly what Director of the 5 Gyres Institue’s predicted would happen in a 2014 EcoWatch Article stating “According to Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute, plastics industry lobbyists worked hard to block it, wanting legislation more like the far from ideal bill that passed in Illinois. The Ilinois bill leaves a loophole for plastic, like Polylactic Acid (PLA) the so-called biodegradable plastic that corn cups are made of. Unfortunately, PLA doesn’t biodegrade in the environment, it requires an industrial composting facility.”

And this is what has happened here in the state of Colorado.  Colorado HB-15-1144 bill specifically states:.

4) “SYNTHETIC PLASTIC MICROBEAD” MEANS AN INTENTIONALLY ADDED, NONBIODEGRADABLE, PLASTIC PARTICLE MEASURING LESS THAN FIVE MILLIMETERS IN SIZE   INTENDED TO AID IN EXFOLIATING OR CLEANSING AS PART OF A RINSE-OFF PRODUCT.”

This is exactly the actions that have been predicted by many environmentalist groups, that the efforts of the science community to curtail the effects of microplastics would be mitigated by corporations who originally fought microbead legislation so they would have the opportunity to craft and create looser regulations that would present “Greenwashed” material information that would weaken future efforts to protect our water.  Colorado is known for being a state that has fought hard to protect our waters and this bill is an unfortunate example.

The reason is very simple.  Biodegradeable plastics have not been proven to biodegrade in cold water settings.  According to Brenda Platt, coordinator for Sustainable Plastics Project:

  “Truly biodegradable plastics are plastics that can decompose into carbon dioxide, methane, water, inorganic compounds, or biomass via microbial assimilation (the enzymatic action of microorganism). To be considered biodegradable, this decomposition has to be measured by standardized tests, and take place within a specified time period, which vary according to the “disposal” method chosen. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) has created definitions on what constitutes biodegradability in various disposal environments.”

What this boils down to is sadly is that  that Colorado’s Microbead ban, HB 15-1144 is a piece of greenwashing legislation presented by corporations who are willingly removing certain types of plastics from their products – ones they already agree to take out, while  having consent to pollute in a slightly different way that still has negative impacts on our environment. The bill, is a bill with solid foundations.  Unfortunately, it happened so fast that even those individuals in the community that tried reaching out to the bills writers didn’t get an effective chance to effectively communicate the scientific realities major corporations were able to step around in the writing of this bill.

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of solutions that already exist!  Besides avoiding purchasing products that already include microplastic, consumers are advised to look for exfoliating products that include natural or real plant products that are effective exfolliants.  Common materials include oatmeal, apricot or peach pits and walnut shells.  These products are already commonly found in supermarket shelves.

How I want to change the world in 500 words.

As a non traditional student, I found myself returning to school after a decade being a health insurance agent.  My passion for our planet re-awoke while attending classes to complete my associates degree.  At first I learned about the Pacific Gyre, an oceanic current that is loaded with plastic that not only accumulates within the middle of it’s spiral current; but also transports this debris onto land masses where it accumulates and increases the levels of negative impact.  The primary two concerns are direct consumption of the plastic by animals, and the environmental toxicity that forms due to chemical leaching into the water.   Currently humanity is dumping over 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean annually.  Scientific studies and photographic evidence is proving that life from mites and ticks to whales and birds are consuming; and dying; from directly consuming this material.  Additionally, science is proving that these plastics are recyclable, even though they have been exposed to ocean waters for years at a time.  The recycling can be done in two specific ways, the first being using the plastics as a partial blend for new plastic products.  Additionally, Pyrolysis is a chemical melting process that returns the plastics to a synthetic oil that can be used to reclaim many of the natural resources used to originally create the plastics, while also capturing any natural gasses.

Due to the multifaceted nature of the environmental impact of these materials are having on our planet, remediation plans must be created and acted upon.  It is well known that areas around the globe are feeling the impact of these materials when they are disguarded into the environment.  My plan is to actively clean up areas of the world where these plastics find there way on shore.  By developing recycling plans that connect local oceanic communities to the plastic pyrolysis and recycling factories that will effectively re-purpose the natural materials that have already been extracted from the planet.  These plastics can be sold to recyclers, providing an income stream for those that work to protect the quality of their natural communities while protecting a multitude of forms of life in the process.

My goals after graduation are to leave the United States and spend time directly working with organizations like The Plastic Bank in Peru who work with local communities to develop the skills needed to create successful remediation programs.  By working directly to clean up this trash while experiencing how community programs that make a difference operate; I will gain valuable experience. I then expect to start a non profit that will fund efforts to keep plastic debris out of our oceans while providing educational connectivity to environmental groups like Earth Force, a grade school education program that teaches students about their connection to the planet.  My overall goal is to allow for a network of remediation efforts to be crated so that existing plastic operations will have sufficient waste plastics and reformulated oils to impact the demand for extracted natural resources.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1144 (Prohibit Plastic Microbeads Personal Care Products) moves out of committee

Here’s another article about Colorado’s HB 15-1144 on Micro Plastics Pollution. I think there are several concerns not addressed in this article, including the fact that the exact verbiage as introduced was written by corporations who have a specific agenda on what types of plastics are permitted to be continued to be placed. However, this activist has been bringing topics like this up in Colorado since 2012.

Coyote Gulch

Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago

FromTheDenverChannel.com (Theresa Marchetta, Sandra Barry):

A bill that would ban the production, sale, and promotion of any personal care product containing microbeads moved forward Tuesday at the State Capitol.

State Representative Dianne Primavera (D-Broomfield) and State Senator Nancy Todd (D-Aurora) introduced HB15-1144, which would be implemented over several years to take full effect in 2020, with penalties for violations as high as $10,000.

The House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee, which Primavera chairs, voted Tuesday afternoon to approve the bill.

In May 2014, the CALL7 Investigators were first to expose concerns over microbeads in Colorado water. That investigation confirmed the plastic particles — which are found in some toothpastes, face washes, body washes, shampoos, eyeliners, lip glosses and deodorants — had made their way through state filtration systems and into the South Platte River. The CALL7 Investigators sent water samples…

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