CA Legislature sends Brown microbead ban

by James Poulos | September 14, 2015 8:17 am

Microbeads[1]After a roller coaster ride through the Senate, a bill enacting the nation’s toughest ban on so-called “microbeads” headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for signature.

Doubts overcome

After sailing through the Assembly in May, AB888, introduced by Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, languished in Sacramento’s upper chamber. As the Sacramento Bee reported[2], “it was blocked by a vote of 19-16 in the Senate, where a similar bill died last year.”

Although granted reconsideration, the bill was dogged by the abstention of some Democrats leery of going too far and too fast toward the elimination of the popular cosmetic and hygienic additives. Suggesting the scope of the uncertainty, state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento — co-author of the state’s recent closure of vaccination exemptions — withheld his vote, arguing that technology should be given a chance to lower the risk posed by the beads to the environment, according to the Bee.

Sure enough, tweaking the bill’s allowance for microbes alternatives won enough support to put it over the top. Originally, Bloom’s language required “that only natural products, such as ground walnut shells, could be used as alternatives to microbeads,” as the Huffington Post noted[3]. “When proponents of the bill agreed to remove those provisions, the legislation was granted reconsideration and passed in the Senate the following day.”

Pushing for a trend

Bloom swiftly hailed the bill’s passage by a 24-14 vote. In terms now becoming typical of legislation passed in Sacramento, he framed the regulations as a model the rest of the country was ready to embrace. “California is a national leader on environmental issues. It is my hope that this legislation, which will create the strongest protections in the country, will be used as a nationwide standard for eliminating harmful micro-plastics from personal care products,” he said, according[4] to the Santa Monica Mirror. “We cannot afford to wait any longer to stop this pervasive source of plastic pollution.”

Key environmental groups echoed Bloom’s predictions. In a blog post, the 5 Gyres Institute, a co-sponsor of the bill, pointedly referenced a pending bill in Congress. “Since CA is by far the largest market for consumer care products in the country, it is likely that Federal Legislation currently under consideration (H.R. 1312) will follow the CA model,” 5 Gyres said.

“Unlike bans in states like Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, Illinois and Indiana, AB888 bans all types of plastic microbeads, including so called “biodegradable plastics,” many of which do not biodegrade in the marine environment. The bill will encourage companies to shift towards more sustainable, naturally derived alternatives like sea salt, apricot pits and walnut husks. AB888 would ban the sale of products containing plastic microbead by 2020.”

Compound fears

Activists have long complained of microbeads’ quiet, cumulative impact, which falls disproportionately on the coastal ecosystem especially beloved of Santa Monica’s environmentalist constituents. As Mother Jones observed[5], “the particles are so small that they aren’t caught in wastewater treatment plants and end up in waterways and oceans, where they don’t biodegrade and are frequently mistaken for food by fish and other marine animals. There are an estimated 300,000 microbeads in a single tube of face wash.”

At the same time, opposition to microbeads arose from Californians with more of a culinary interest in marine life. “Fish species that humans harvest have been known to eat micro-plastic particles and the toxins absorbed in those plastics transfer to the fish tissue,” the Mirror noted. “Humans eat fish and bivalves that have eaten microplastics which carry known dangerous toxins.” Bloom and others have also expressed concerns that microbeads can “pose a threat to humans when used in toiletries such as toothpaste, potentially sticking in gums and causing disease.”

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