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.

How you shop is important, it is already changing the world.

When recycling was beginning to be a requirement on a national level, there was much ado about how it was all going to work.  People all over this country were involved in the idea that what they were doing was important and would be useful for generations to come.  How recycled products would be labeled, what types of material were to be used to be ‘post-consumer’ content and at what percentages.  What is post consumer waste?  What percentage of post consumer product could you use, was it safe?  What would standard be?  Who would enforce this?  Does the Federal Government have a responsibility to do this?  Do they have the right?  A lot of work was put into the entire process.

And yet, according to the EPA, only 7% of the plastic that is created – gets recycled.  For some really good reading the 1990 report to Congress by the EPA titles,”Methods to Manage and Control Plastic Waste“.  In the meantime understand this – as a species we suck at cleaning up after ourselves.  And this my friends is creating a massive problem for our world. These problems are not just land based problems like, “our landfill is full, can we send our garbage to yours?”  While this happens all the time in the Midwest (garbage from cities like Chicago travels out of the city and even into Wisconsin.   Unfortunately, not all states have space where they can send their trash.  So what happened to all the garbage from a city like say, New York when there is no landfill space?  They took it out to sea, an activity that eventually ended in the 90’s.

ARE YOU OUTRAGED?  You should be.  Just in case you didn’t catch the earlier point, let me repeat it for you.  The City and State of New York authorized barges of trash to be sent out to sea.  A practice that is known to exist for over 100 years.  You and I can be sure they aren’t the only ones.  This might not have been a major issue at first, however since the creation of plastic in the 1850’s, we have been throwing it in the ocean.

So now we have organizations like 5 Gyres Institute  who are seeking to understand how the ocean is impacted by this trash and promoting, like this author, to increase recycling methods while reducing the amount of plastics we purchase.  Unfortunately the problem has become a beast of it’s own as we have come to discover that there are more than 5 major garbage patches in our oceans.  The main ones are flowing along our worlds major oceanic currents, known as gyres.  These ocean currents are so strong and regular that the water carries everything that we throw in them.  Greenpeace published a whitepaper sometime in the last 5 years titled,” Plastic Debris in the Worlds Oceans.”

What can I do?

The point of all of this is simple.  You purchase plastic on a daily basis.  There truly is no way around it.  Companies have concluded that you won’t do anything about it in the form of not purchasing their products and that articles like this will provide you with awareness that you will soon forget to act upon as soon as your hunger or schedule gets in the way.   The first thing that each of us can do is to make daily decisions to “Cut The Plastic out of our Lives”.  Demand manufactures use post consumer products, that virgin plastics are labeled effectively, and remember it’s how you spend your money that speaks to companies the most.  Stop purchasing products that are not made with the environment in mind, especially individually wrapped products.   Buy in bulk, and send your kids to school or daycare with smaller plastic storage containers.  Encourage recycling at work, places you shop, and demand it in your home.   Maybe you are seeing this information for the first time,  it’s ok if you weren’t educated about all of this before today.  What matters is what you do from here on out.  To quote G. I. Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.”