Addressing the Issue of Microplastics in the Wake of the Microbead-Free Waters Act—A New Standard Can Facilitate Improved Policy

The United States Microbead-Free Waters Act was signed into law in December 2015. It is a bipartisan agreement that will eliminate one preventable source of microplastic pollution in the United States. Still, the bill is criticized for being too limited in scope, and also for discouraging the development of biodegradable alternatives that ultimately are needed to solve the bigger issue of plastics in the environment. Due to a lack of an acknowledged, appropriate standard for environmentally safe microplastics, the bill banned all plastic microbeads in selected cosmetic products. Here, we review the history of the legislation and how it relates to the issue of microplastic pollution in general, and we suggest a framework for a standard (which we call “Ecocyclable”) that includes relative requirements related to toxicity, bioaccumulation, and degradation/assimilation into the natural carbon cycle. We suggest that such a standard will facilitate future regulation and legislation to reduce pollution while also encouraging innovation of sustainable technologies.

Jason P. McDevitt, Craig S. Criddle, Molly Morse, Robert C. Hale, Charles B. Bott, Chelsea M. Rochman, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (12), pp 6611–6617

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Is the Montreal Protocol a model that can help solve the global marine plastic debris problem?

The impacts of plastic debris on the marine environment have gained the attention of the global community. Although the plastic debris problem presents in the oceans, the failure to control land-based plastic waste is the primary cause of these marine environmental impacts. Plastics in the ocean are mainly a land policy issue, yet the regulation of marine plastic debris from land-based sources is a substantial gap within the international policy framework. Regulating different plastics at the final product level is difficult to implement. Instead, the Montreal Protocol may serve as a model to protect the global ocean common, by reducing the production of virgin material within the plastics industry and by regulating both the polymers and chemical additives as controlled substances at a global level. Similar to the Montreal Protocol, national production and consumption of this virgin content can be calculated, providing an opportunity for the introduction of phased targets to reduce and eliminate the agreed substances to be controlled. The international trade of feedstock materials that do not meet the agreed minimum standards can be restricted. The aim of such an agreement would be to encourage private investment in the collection, sorting and recycling of post-consumer material for reuse as feedstock, thereby contributing to the circular economy. The proposed model is not without its challenges, particularly when calculating costs and benefits, but is worthy of further consideration by the international community in the face of the global threats posed to the ocean by plastics.

Karen Raubenheimer, Alistair McIlgorm, Marine Policy, Volume 81, July 2017, Pages 322–329

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Plastic pollution challenges in marine and coastal environments: from local to global governance

Plastic pollution in the marine and coastal environment is a challenging restoration and governance issue. Similar to many environmental problems, marine plastic pollution is transboundary and therefore the governance solutions are complex. Although the marine environment is unlikely to return to the condition it was in before the “plastic era,” it is an example of an environmental restoration challenge where successful governance and environmental stewardship would likely result in a healthier global oceanic ecosystem. We argue that a holistic, integrated approach that utilizes scientific expertise, community participation, and market-based strategies is needed to significantly reduce the global plastic pollution problem.

J. Vince, B. D. Hardesty, Restoration Ecology, Volume 25, Issue 1, January 2017, Pages 123–128

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Is existing legislation fit-for-purpose to achieve Good Environmental Status in European seas?

Recent additions to marine environmental legislation are usually designed to fill gaps in protection and management, build on existing practices or correct deficiencies in previous instruments. Article 13 of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires Member States to develop a Programme of Measures (PoM) by 2015, to meet the objective of Good Environmental Status (GES) for their waters by 2020. This review explores key maritime-related policies with the aim to identify the opportunities and threats that they pose for the achievement of GES. It specifically examines how Member States have relied on and will integrate existing legislation and policies to implement their PoM and the potential opportunities and difficulties associated with this. Using case studies of three Member States, other external impediments to achieving GES are discussed including uses and users of the marine environment who are not governed by the MSFD, and gives recommendations for overcoming barriers.

Suzanne J. Boyes, Michael Elliott, Arantza Murillas-Maza, Nadia Papadopoulou, Maria C. Uyarra, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 111, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2016, Pages 18–32

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UK Parliament Committee studying impact of microplastics

In an enquiry launched in March 2016, the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee is examining the impact of microplastics on the environment with an eye to determining the scale, sources and consequences of these minuscule particles, used mainly as exfoliants in cosmetic products, along with developing strategies for dealing with the problem. (…) (Plasteurope.com, 21/04/2016)

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