The Opener: Fishing for Plastic

There has been a recent increase in awareness of a potentially detrimental ecological problem caused by products that many people use every day. The problem is microbeads, and scientists are becoming worried about their adverse effects on fisheries and wildlife, ecosystems, and the environment.
Although there has recently been greater awareness of this problem, Michigan still does not have state law that addresses it. Thankfully, there are several lawmakers interested in working on this issue. However, before we get into regulating or banning the use of plastic microbeads, we first must understand what they are.
Microbeads are small plastic spheres that are widely used in cosmetics and personal care products for their exfoliating and cleansing properties--namely in facial cleansers and toothpastes. They are generally 1 millimeter or less in size, which is a reason for users of these products not to give them much thought. However, their size happens to be an important reason for why they can have such adverse ecological effects.
When these beads are washed down the drain, their small size allows them to slip through filtration systems. This in effect allows them to flow through the water waste treatment process and eventually end up in water systems. This is detrimental to fish populations because plastic is commonly mistaken for food among aquatic organisms. Plastic even the size of microbeads adds up when usage is constant, which means this is a phenomenon that needs to be stopped. Microbead-containing products can substitute in other eco-friendly alternatives showing that the problem is not an enormously difficult one to fix.
There are already a number of states that have banned the sale of products containing microbeads, but no such action has occurred at the federal level, though conversations have recently begun in the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health spurred by legislation co-sponsored by Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI). Michigan is now in a position where bills banning microbeads may move in the legislature soon.
A concern that MUCC member organizations and members of the tourism industry have with some proposed legislation is the term “nonbiodegradable” that has been used to describe microbeads and microbeads alternatives. Whether the plastic is biodegradable or not, microbeads can be consumed by fish and wildlife. Perhaps even more concerning is, as Michigan DEQ Director Dan Wyant stated in his testimony to Congress requesting federal action, that "toxic pollutants already present in the Great Lakes may bind to these plastics, making them even more harmful. Recent laboratory studies have shown that microplastics have the potential to adversely affect fish and other aquatic organisms."
Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming legislation and information from MUCC involving microbeads and the future opportunities to make your voice heard!

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