California on Wednesday became the first state to adopt a comprehensive microplastics reduction strategy, part of a broad effort to protect the state’s marine environment.
the National Microplastics Strategy, approved by the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) on Wednesday afternoon, identifies preventative actions and research priorities the state can take to help curb microplastics along its coasts, according to the council. The OPC, an advisory body within the California Natural Resources Agency, was created by the California Ocean Protection Act in 2004 to ensure the state maintains a healthy and resilient ocean environment.
“Microplastics are poisoning the ocean, both globally and off the coast of California,” California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said in a statement.
About 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year, an amount that is expected to triple by 2040, according to the OPC. Eventually, plastics can break down into tiny pieces called microplastics – those less than 5 millimeters in size – which are easily ingested by marine life and lead to impaired growth and reproductive complications.
Far from being “just a marine pollution problem”, microplastics have also been found in human placenta, stool samples and lung tissue, entering the food web through seafood consumption and exposing humans to endocrine disruptors, explained the state strategy.
The strategy provides a multi-year roadmap that incorporates a two-track approach to managing California’s microplastic pollution. The first of two tracks contains 22 immediate steps that include both “no regrets” actions and multi-benefit solutions for reducing and managing microplastics.
Among those 22 early actions are pollution prevention tools, such as implementing a statewide requirement to provide single-use utensils and condiments upon request only. Other such prevention mechanisms include the purchase of reusable tableware statewide, as well as a ban on the sale and distribution of styrofoam tableware and packaging by 2023.
The first actions also include a ban on the sale and distribution of single-use tobacco products that contribute to plastic pollution, such as cigarette filters and electric cigarettes.
These multi-benefit solutions also involve a variety of “pathway interventions” aimed at disrupting specific pathways – such as stormwater runoff, sewage, and airborne deposition – that facilitate the movement of microplastics through Californian waters. .
Among the interventions are approaches such as upgrading stormwater management infrastructure, prioritizing the interception of plastic debris in waste hotspots, and conducting enforcement actions to curb the illegal dumping of “pellets pre-production plastics” – the building blocks of most plastics – also known as “nurdles”. .”
The first part of the roadmap also includes a series of awareness and education initiatives aimed at engaging members of the public and industry on the sources of microplastics.
“Some solutions, like stormwater infiltration projects and better compliance with nurdle discharge bans, can reduce microplastics immediately,” OPC executive director Mark Gold said in a statement. “But we can’t dramatically reduce microplastic pollution without the leadership of the textile industry and tire manufacturers to produce consumer products that don’t make the growing problem worse.”
According to the OPC, some of the top sources of microplastics in California include tires, synthetic textiles, cigarette filters and single-use plastic food utensils.
The second track of the National Microplastics Strategy has a longer-term focus – setting science-based goals to inform state actions in the years to come. This track has 13 parts, which include standardizing a statewide microplastics monitoring system and improvements in scientific understanding of impacts on aquatic life and human health.
Also along this path are plans to prioritize future management solutions that incorporate local data, as well as the development of future pollution mitigation mechanisms.
Crowfoot, the Secretary of Natural Resources, stressed the urgency of acting on microplastics, implementing the mechanisms outlined in this strategy.
“By reducing pollution at its source, we keep our rivers, wetlands and oceans healthy, and protect all the people and nature that depend on these waters,” Crowfoot said.