“Once in our lakes and oceans, plastics are there to stay, unless they are eaten by organisms, or wash back up onto shore.” – Anna Cummins, co-founder of 5Gyres.
Tiny pieces of plastic can be found in many hygiene products, mass-produced by global manufacturers such as Aveeno, Olay, Carress, Dior, and many other lesser known companies. These microscopic plastic materials are used to exfoliate skin during washing. Because the product is used on skin during washing, nearly 100% of it is rinsed down the drain and into our waterways. Once it reaches the water system the plastic becomes effectively invincible to any effort at removing it and quickly enters the oceans, lakes, gulfs, and rivers.
These beads are found in every ocean, bay, gulf, or sea in the world. If you like seafood, it is not unlikely that you may have consumed some beads yourself. What’s worse is that the plastic beads are extremely prone to absorbing other toxic chemicals which degrades or destroy the health of the animal which consumes them.
Many organizations around the world, most notably 5Gyres, have been working relentlessly to raise awareness about the issue. Putting pressure on the companies who produce the microbeads is the only opportunity to end this attack on our oceans.
New York State has passed the first stage of the proposed ban which is more aggressive than the ones proposed in California and Illinois with clauses to phase out the material by 2016. There is still more work to be done before the bill becomes active, but this is a beautiful start!
Microbeads are being voluntarily phased out by many companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Estée Lauder, Clarins, and others who share concern for the environment. The passed ban in Illinois, despite being labeled as a failure by environmentalists, did bring much needed attention to the issue and likely played a big part in the voluntary movement by these companies.
Setbacks: Illinois and California.
Earlier this year there was an aggressive bill proposed to the Senate of California and voted on last August. The bill was rejected by a single vote. 5Gyres has since publicly accused the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) of lobbying officials with misinformation about their intentions including presenting weak/faulty science as well as alleging that the bill was also aimed to ban natural alternatives.
A bill in Illinois was the first passed in North America banning microplastics. Despite being a big win for bringing much needed publicity to the issue, it was actually a failure to protect the environment because it still allows the use of “biodegradable plastics”. This type of plastic is able to decompose in a controlled environment such as a composting facility, but the law was passed to protect the oceans where, unfortunately, it is unable to decompose for hundreds of years.
The Battle Continues:
5Gyres and their supporters are not only fighting this battle through publicity, science, and media. They are also on the front lines volunteering and coordinating countless events to physically remove plastic from waterways. The following is a quote from 5Gyres Texas Ambassador, Aly Tharp, who was present at the annual Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup helping with the effort and collecting names for an anti-microbead petition:
“I see how polluted and sick our society and habitat has become, and I want to do whatever I can to make it better. Plastic pollution is not merely ‘ugly’ to me, it’s innately violent and destructive. For me, not only does it represent the oppressive violence committed to support the dominating yet unsustainable social order of never-ending global markets based on plastic-wrapped materialism… If it’s true that 8% of petroleum production worldwide is going towards plastic production, then every and all unnecessary consumer plastic (the many millions of tons of it) is contributing to climate change, air pollution and ecosystem destruction, often at multiple levels within its very long lifespan. I want better, and I volunteer my time to build awareness and community, and to state the case that it’s high-tide for change.”
The great news is that we have organizations such as 5Gyres who will never give up. Without dedicated people like this who knows what kind of shape our oceans would be in. To get involved yourself and support this cause, please take a few quick minutes to sign the microbead petition.