Colorado introduces Microbead Legislation HB 15-1144

Plastic pollution is a growing global concern that continues to draw attention from around the world.  One of the greatest reasons plastic pollution attracts so much attention is that it can literally take hundreds of years, even thousands of years to break down.  Over the years many scientific organizations have examined the impacts of plastic pollution on our waters and the life within.  These studies have covered everything from the impacts of ingested plastics on fish to how plastics leach chemicals into our bodies like Bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor that has similar impacts to estrogen in both humans and animals.

One of the main reasons that our planet is filled with plastic is that there are minimal restrictions on a global level to regulate the recapture of plastics around the world.  In the United States, many states attempted to regulate the manufacture and recapture of used plastic bottles through the use of a legislative measure called a Bottle Bill.  These bottle bills required a deposit, or small fee, at the time of purchase.  The manufactures would then be held accountable to ensure that the materials The concept required the consumer to incur a financial liability in order to encourage the return of the empty packaging in order to receive the money back.  Many bottle bills were opposed by the manufactures, who gathered together to form the Beverage Consumers of America, a lobby organization who fought against end user responsibilities based on the premise that it would be to expensive to manage these materials.
In a general way, manufacturing companies are consistently known for their unwillingness to hold themselves liable for the impact of materials they sell once consumers have disposed of them.  This problem, when it comes to plastic, has become so great that some scientists like Dr Marcus Erickson of the 5 Gyres Oceanic institute have recently come to the understanding that there are more pieces of plastic in our oceans than stars in the sky.  Among the efforts of the 5 Gyres team, the effort to eliminate Plastic Microbeads has not been a short lived effort.  The first win was when the state of IL passed the first ever microbead legislation, banning plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products by 2017.

On Monday Febuary 9th, I learned that the State of Colorado would be presenting it’s first ever legislation on plastic microbeads.  Without any hesitation I knew I had to be there!  For the last 3 years all I have been talking about is plastic pollution across our planet and my personal actions have included eliminating the purchase of Bath and Body Works pump soaps, an item I had been handing out as presents to friends and family for years, simply because they contain plastic microbeads.   My investment in this topic has included presenting to the Colorado Water Board as they held open roundtables regarding the efforts of developing a State Water Plan, providing an opinion that microbeads should be banned as part of the state’s developing plan.

Going to the Colorado State Capitol in and of itself was quite an experience.  The building is beautiful and has an extensive history within, including being made of the only Red Marble known in the world, which comes from Bula, Colorado. I had little trouble find the room I was seeking, so many Sargent at Arms in their green jackets.  The capitol is a warm building and the basement room in which the house committee met had windows in which the sun warmed the room.  The environment was pleasant and by the time Representative Premavera was called in I was starting to get a feel for the procedures of the day.

The thing that shocked me most in her testimony and introduction of the bill was the fact that it was sponsored by Johnson and Johnson, a company that makes personal care products full of these plastics. I watched as a variety of preferred expert witnesses came forward representing various organizations like the Manufactures Association, the Denver Waste water District, Colorado Water Board, Johnson and Johnson and Cosmetic Producers Association.  As each came up they had brief prepared statements describing their support for the bill, and how they were actively looking for uniform laws across the states to make their jobs easier.  They justified the low levels of financial penalties, the timeline of delay and the specificity of limiting the use of plastics in their specific items.  Each was asked a few questions from varying  House representatives.  During the entire time I was taking notes on a copy of the written text of the bill I was able to scrounge up ( love those Sargent’s at Arms).

After the preferred testimonies, the floor was available to those who chose to sign up and do so.  I had shown up, having spoken about plastics and micobeads at many different events over the last 36 months, including roundtable meetings regarding Colorado’s State Water Plan.  I introduced myself and my position as a student at MSU Denver and as the senior club president of the Water Association of Student Stewards Urban Program.  I explained that I was there to testify on behalf of Water, yes that is what I said, I was there to represent myself on behalf of Water itself.  I did not have a prepared testimony, and I apologized to the representatives as I had received short notice on the presentation but was experienced in the topic.  I responded to the idea that this was a corporately sponsored bill, that there were no expert scientists presenting data on bio -accumulation of plastics, the resulting impacts to fish, hydro accumulation of other toxins that accumulate by attraction and a plethora of other factors that would surely solidify the import of their support.  I explained how the industry at one time was fighting these exact bills and were, quite honestly presenting a very soft version of legislature that allowed for future use of “biodegradable” plastics was an open loophole they had written in.  This loophole is dangerous because the same factors of leaching from unregulated plastic ingredients are already causing significant impact on our environment.  I made commentary on how the fines are minimal compared to profits available and how the IL state bill was significantly tougher on companies than the bill that was presented today.

In the end, I provided a rebuttal answer to each of the questions the preferred witnesses had not answered in a way that was as complete or full as I believed a scientist would have.  And at the end of the day, I testified on Colorado HB 15-1144 in the House Committee furthering my resume and experience as an authority on the topic.  In addition, I was able to make some network connections.  It was my first formal experience in front of a state house committee in the capitol, and the only way I could ask for a more gratifying one is if you act right now to pledge to eliminate microbeads from your consumer goods today.

5 reasons Denver’s proposed plastic bag fee has potential

According to a report on CBS-Denver, “Denver City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega has proposed a five-cent fee for every disposable bag used at grocery and convenience stores in the city limits.”  Under the current proposal 60% of this fee would go to the city while 40% would go to vendors.  The estimates of combined generated revenues according to CBS-Denver is in excess of 6  million of dollars!  While many will consider 2 million dollars in handling fees an excessive cost, and a potential ‘tax on the poor’; I would like to propose that there are at minimum five reasons why ‘Plastic user fees’ are of value.

1.  Plastic pollution is a real and present danger to our environment.  Researchers at the 5 Gyres Institute have found significant evidence that plastic pollution is a global issue polluting the natural homes off both land, sea and air animals around the globe.  In a lab project for 7th to 12th graders indicates that some bird colonies have as much as 80% of their populations that have consumed plastic in their diet.

2. User fees are proven to change consumption patterns. According to an interview by NPR’s Michel Martin, Michael Bolinder of Anacostia Riverkeeper indicates that plastic bag consumption went from over 22 million bags on a monthly basis to about 3 million.  Community governments around the country are seeing the reduction of single use plastic as additional fees encourage citizens to modify consumption patterns and incorporate more conservation minded practices into their daily lives.

3. Single Use plastic bags have low plastic recycling demand.  Consider that while many grocery and chain retail locations provide recycling collection of single use bags, curbside recycling does not.  Because the plastic density and composition of these bags there is little demand for this grade of plastic.  This limited demand means little to no profit margin, and can actually be a financial burden to waste management which is why these plastics are restricted from community recycling programs.

4. Plastic does not decompose.  Instead it behaves like rock in that it breaks down into smaller portions of itself.  Plastic is made through a chemical manufacturing process called polymerization, and is designed to be a lightweight alternative for manufacturing, storage and transportation costs.  Unfortunately, the only way to convert plastic back to natural materials is to reverse manufacture them via a process called depolymerization.  Studies by the 5 Gyres  Institue show how plastics of all sizes are contaminating oceans and beaches around the planet as well as all five great lakes.

5. Plastic is made up of oil, a primary source of single use consumption on the planet.  A report by Friends of the Earth states, “Humans today extract and use around 50% more natural resources than only 30 years ago, at about 60 billion tonnes of raw materials a year”.  This includes increasing levels of oil consumption globally that has pushed for the expansion of environmentally dangerous sources of gas and oil collection like Bitumen Tar Sands and Hydraulic Fracturing.

So while the current proposal before Denver’s City Council may not be the version that gets a final vote, I hope that you will agree that the prospect of such an action is a timely and responsible course in environmental responsibility.  If you are not already in the habit of bringing reusable shopping bags, your family and friends may  thank you, plus think of all the money you will be saving once the fee’s begin!