Beauty Store Business

AUG 2016

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20 August 2016 | beautystorebusiness.com this, doing more research, getting more public attention. In 2014, our organiza- tion published the first global estimate of the distribution of plastic pollution in our oceans after we completed the first research on plastics in the South Atlan- tic, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. So we've really seen an explosion of interest, research, media attention and advocacy happening in the last five to 10 years. To clarify, in 2013, 5 Gyres published work specific to microbeads, rather than the umbrella term of microplastics, correct? Exactly. In 2012, we partnered with Dr. Sam Mason from State University of New York at Fredonia to do the first research on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. The reason we wanted to do that was, in part, to try and engage more people in Middle America who don't necessarily live next to an ocean and might not con- nect with the idea of ocean impacts. We wanted to see if we'd find these same issues in a huge water body, in a freshwa- ter lake. We surveyed all five of the Great Lakes over two years, 2012 and 2013. And this is where we first discovered plastic microbeads. We found one sample from Lake Erie that had more plastics by count than any of the oceans we'd surveyed— over 1,200 spherical, smooth plastic particles. Many of them matched the same plastic exfoliants used in everyday products—facial scrubs, body washes and even toothpastes. We were stunned. We had never seen anything like this before. Most plastics that we find in the oceans are heavily degraded, broken down par- ticles; impossible to trace back to a specific country or product. Yet here was a product that was essentially designed to pollute. There's no way of recovering microbeads. They're too small to be filtered through wastewater treatment. No one was really thinking about it. Most people had no idea that these beads were washing directly from their faces and bodies down drain and into their local waterways. MANUFACTURERS' RESPONSES So we published our findings, with Dr. Mason. It's so important to have solid, peer-reviewed, vetted scientific proof. We took this proof directly to a major multinational corporation, where we had a high-up contact, and basically, what they told us is "more research needed," which is what you often hear from indus- try faced with environmental contamina- tion. Fortunately, we had a precedent for action through a partner organization in Europe called the Plastic Soup Foun- dation, which had successfully lobbied Unilever to voluntarily phase out plastic microbeads from its products. So that really helped to kick off our campaign in the United States. We went to Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, The Body Shop and others. We got our community involved in doing a letter-writing cam- paign to Johnson & Johnson. Eventually, they all agreed to a voluntary phase out by 2015 to 2017. But as a tiny organization, compared to these massive multinational companies, we realized we didn't have the bandwidth to keep them accountable. We needed to take this to a legislative level. So one of our board members, Lisa Boyle, helped us connect with a lawyer in San Francisco, Rachel Doughty from Greenfire Law, and introduced us to Cali- fornia Assemblymember Richard Bloom. Other nongovernmental organizations got involved, and a strong coalition worked together to have New York and California be the first two states to introduce bills to ban the sale of plastic microbeads in 2014. We came within two votes of a victory in 2014, but lost on the Senate floor. More NGOs joined together in 2015 to ramp up the momentum. FEDERAL LEGISLATION Shortly after California passed its ban in October 2015, President Obama signed a national bill, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. Until we had a national bill, we had a patchwork of legislation in at least eight states around the coun- try. But they were all slightly different; and some even contained language that allowed for "biodegradable plastics," which are not designed to break down in oceans. Again, a strong coalition of NGOs, including 5 Gyres, worked hard with legislators to ensure a strong bill in California. What happens in California tends to influence the rest of the coun- try. The national bill passed unanimously in December, which was truly an incred- ible victory—from science to solutions in three years. But the bill won't fully go "… a plastic lighter in the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, in six to 10 years, would travel from California to Japan and back." Images courtesy of The 5 Gyres Institute, top right photo by Sergio Izquierdo Jack Johnson holding a plastic trawl sample on the 5 Gyres' 2015 SEAChange Expedition.

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