Posts Tagged ‘Marine Ecology’

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Tiny plastic microbeads in personal care products are washing into public waterways. — credit: Alliance for the Great Lakes

In March of 2014, I wrote a post about microbeads. Microbeads, for those who might be wondering, are tinny spheres of plastic that are added to a variety of personal care products such as toothpaste, body wash, and soap to increase the abrasiveness of the product. The problem is that these pieces of plastic are so small that they pass right through filters and water treatment plants and then flow out into the environment where they can have serious consequences. The polystyrene that microbeads are commonly made of attract a range of chemicals that bind to their surface. When a fish mistakes a microbead for a fish or insect egg, it not only gets a piece of plastic in its stomach, but also a concentrated does of the chemicals that piece of plastic is carrying.

And some of the numbers around microbeads are staggering! Researchers at State University of New York found that an average one square kilometer of Lake Ontario contained approximately 1.1 million microbeads! All these particles move through our streams, lakes, and rivers and eventually find their way to the oceans where they contribute to the massive amount of plastics floating on the earth’s oceans. These plastics continue to have environmental health effects as they move through food webs. A recent study out of Oregon State University found that approximately 90% of the seabirds in the world had plastic in their guts.

So, what to do? Well, in March of this year, Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) introduced H.R. 1321 to the U.S. House of Representatives which would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit microbeads from being added to products. It calls for the phasing out of microbeads beginning on the 1st of July, 2017. And on the 7th of Dec. the House voted on, and passed, H.R. 1321! This legislation will now go to the US Senate for a vote, and then on to the President to be signed into law.

So, the U.S. Senate is the next hurdle. To help this bill over that hurdle, write to your senators and tell them that you want a vote on this issue, and that you want them to vote with the environment and ban microbeads from our waterways and the waters of the planet!


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A change is coming to a grocery store near you! Soon you will not have the option of paper or plastic at the checkout counter. This is because, last September, Governor Brown signed a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. This is the first state-wide ban in the country.

The ban will come into effect in two major stages. The first will only effect large stores and will begin 1-July-2015. The second stage will apply to all stores of any kind or size and will take effect 1-July-2016.

At present, it is estimated that something like 13 million plastic bags are handed out each year. All that plastic is then thrown away, if we are lucky. If we are lucky a plastic bag is thrown into the trash and ends up in a landfill. It will not brake down there for decades, at least, but it will stay put. If we are unlucky, the bag will miss the trash can and end up floating on the wind or water and end up in our streams, rivers, and eventually, our oceans. There it will again not break down for decades and instead spend its time floating around collecting toxins, many of which bind to the surface of plastics. They are then often eaten by marine animals, and so deliver that toxic payload to that animal or the animal that eats it. In this way, the toxins that the plastic carries, and the plastic itself, is accumulated up the food chain and eventually may be eaten by you or me. So, this ban is not just about saving the oceans, though it would be a great law even if that were the case, but it is about protecting our health as well.

I, for one, am happy to see California leading the way on this issue. Of course, the plastic bag industry is pretty unhappy about this ban, but if you are contributing to the decline in health of the environment then you are going to be held to account in one way or another. This way we all get to be healthier during the process.

So, don’t forget your reusable bags next time you head out shopping! Come July, you are really going to need them.

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