California has adopted the first comprehensive microplastics reduction policy in the nation in response to the state’s widespread and growing plastics pollution issue.
To improve its coastal and ocean health, the California government’s Ocean Protection Council devised a 37-page Statewide Microplastics Strategy containing case studies, policy prescriptions, and monitoring methods.
The strategy’s multi-pronged approach includes:
- Pollution prevention to eliminate plastic waste at the source.
- Pathway interventions to identify and block microplastics from point sources from entering California waters.
- Education to inform the public and industries about microplastics sources, impacts, and solutions.
- Monitoring to track and respond to trends in microplastics pollution statewide.
- Risk assessment to improve understanding of critical thresholds at which aquatic life and humans are adversely impacted by microplastic exposure.
- Sources and pathways prioritization to target management of the predominant ways microplastics enter California waters.
- Evaluation to develop and implement potential future solutions.
California is a leader in addressing plastic pollution. Other examples of recently passed plastic waste–reduction policies include:
- A ban on microplastic beads.
- A ban on single-use plastic bags.
- A requirement to use reusable, recyclable, or compostable food service packaging.
- A requirement to provide single-use plastic straws and foodware only upon request.
Worldwide, an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, with this amount expected to triple by 2040 if no intervention takes place. Microplastics are defined by the State Water Resources Control Board as synthetic particles with at least three dimensions ranging from one nanometer to five millimeters in size. They are considered pervasive and persistent global pollutants, resisting decomposition and spreading through the sea to remote environments. They are found not just in the water, but also on land such as agricultural soil, as well as in the human body.
Acknowledging the scope and gravity of this issue, several new international plastic regulation proposals are set to be presented to the United Nations in 2022. Given the economic importance of the plastics markets, which accounted for nearly $580 billion in commerce in 2020, government and business will attempt to negotiate a regulatory compromise.