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.