It’s not just visible plastic waste – water bottles and caps, food wrappers, foam packaging – that’s polluting the ocean.
Tiny toxic microplastics less than two-tenths of an inch long can be even more troublesome. They are virtually impossible to remove once in the water and they are easily ingested by marine life. And unless something is done to prevent it, the volume of microplastics in the world’s oceans is expected to triple by 2030, according to the state’s Ocean Protection Council.
In an effort to further reduce plastic waste that can break down into microplastics as well as stem the flow of ocean-bound microplastics, such as laundry microfibers and tire wear particles, the council approved to unanimously a broad national strategy on microplastics with 22 recommendations on Wednesday, February 23. The vote was touted as the first microplastics strategy in the country, and possibly the world.
Now it’s about turning the recommendations into policies — and actions.
“It’s a step in the right direction and an indication of how seriously we’re starting to take this issue,” said Sen. Ben Allen, D-Redondo Beach, who serves on the board. “Microplastics are truly becoming a scourge on the ocean.”
The development of the strategy was mandated by 2018 legislation, and the council’s recommendations now go to the Legislative Assembly and state agencies to be considered as the basis for new laws and regulations. These recommendations range from banning styrofoam food containers and cigarette filters to promoting the use of close-meshed washing machine filters as a way to capture microfibers and other microplastics before they get lost. found in storm water and sewage from the oceans.
Larger plastics breaking down into microplastics remain a major concern.
“Plastic waste in the United States is pervasive and growing, with the United States generating more plastic waste in 2016 than any other country, exceeding that of all European Union member states combined,” the statement said. strategy, citing a national academy. of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report to Congress in December.
“Globally, an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, and that amount will triple by 2040 if no action is taken,” the 34-page document states.
Microplastics, meanwhile, are increasingly found in a wide range of marine life and have been shown to cause tissue inflammation, impaired growth, developmental abnormalities and reproductive difficulties, the report states.
But microplastics are not just a marine pollution problem.
“Microplastics have been found almost everywhere scientists have investigated, from pristine mountain streams to agricultural soils, and in human placenta, stool specimens, and lung tissue,” the paper reports.
While some environmentalists would like to see recommendations that go even further than the council’s strategy, the document was welcomed by several environmentalists who addressed the council on Wednesday.
“Microplastics are an extremely complex problem,” said Emily Parker, marine scientist at Heal the Bay. “The microplastics strategy will provide much-needed guidance.”
The state has been reducing plastic pollution for years, including a landmark 2014 legislative ban on single-use plastic bags that was later voted into law by voters, a 2018 law that restricts single-use plastic straws and an expansion of straw in 2021. restrictions to include plastic utensils and condiment wrappers.
And it’s not the first time the Ocean Protection Council has attended the marine litter rodeo. The council helped develop the state’s Ocean Litter Prevention Strategy and last year endorsed the “Top 10 Recommendations to Address Plastic Pollution in California’s Coastal and Marine Ecosystems.”
The National Microplastics Strategy builds on these documents and, in some cases, reinforces calls from activists and lawmakers for new anti-pollution measures.
For example, a bill that would require all single-use food packaging and utensils to be compostable or recyclable has stalled in Sacramento for the past three years, and now a measure with the same requirements has qualified for the ballot. of November. A bill banning single-use cigarette filters and single-use e-cigarettes was introduced in January, as was a bill that would require microfiber filters on all new washing machines.
All three correlate with the nine “pollution prevention” recommendations of the strategy, which also includes a ban on polystyrene food packaging, extending the ban on microbeads to cosmetics and cleaning products and the development non-plastic alternatives to other products and packaging.
The Pathway Interventions strategy’s eight recommendations include a call for retention ponds to allow stormwater to settle into the land rather than flowing into the ocean and for more thorough treatment of sewage before it enters the ocean. they are pumped into the ocean.
The paper also identifies tire wear particles as an ocean microplastic, citing a study that estimates that 34% of these particles worldwide are carried in the air and ocean, and another study that found that tire wear particles were “an important source of microplastics in urban areas”. stormwater in San Francisco Bay.
But an immediate solution to these particles entering the ocean seems unlikely, as the closest thing to direct action are recommendations to reduce stormwater runoff and encourage the development of alternative materials.
The strategy also includes 12 research priorities, which involve monitoring to better assess the sources and composition of microplastics, assessments to determine specific risk thresholds for humans and marine life, and better inventories of pathways taken by microplastics. microplastics to the ocean.