California Takes Decisive Action to Reduce Microplastics Pollution: State Adopts a First-in-Nation Approach to Protecting Ocean and Human Health
SACRAMENTO, CA – In response to increasing concern about pervasive and persistent pollution caused by microplastics, the California Ocean Protection Council yesterday approved the first comprehensive microplastics strategy in the nation. This leading-edge Statewide Microplastics Strategy identifies early actions and research priorities to reduce microplastic pollution in California’s marine environment. Worldwide, an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. Without any intervention, this amount is anticipated to triple by 2040. Over time, plastics break down in aquatic environments into pieces of ever-decreasing size, with those less than 5 mm in size known as “microplastics,” which are easily ingested by ocean life, causing harm such as tissue inflammation, impaired growth, developmental abnormalities and reproductive complications.
Microplastics have also been found in human stool, lung, and placenta samples, and within soils and plants. Research in California has identified tire and road wear, synthetic textiles, cigarette filters and single-use plastic foodware as among the top sources of microplastics in California bay and ocean waters, sediment and fish tissue. Precautionary management of microplastic pollution and upstream source reduction are the most effective response to this crisis.
“Microplastics are poisoning the ocean, both across the planet and off the California coast,” said California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot. “We must take action, and this strategy shows us how. By reducing pollution at its source, we safeguard the health of our rivers, wetlands and oceans, and protect all of the people and nature that depends on these waters.”
“Some solutions, like stormwater infiltration projects and better compliance with nurdle discharge prohibitions, can reduce microplastics immediately”, said OPC Executive Director, Mark Gold. “But we can not dramatically reduce microplastic pollution without leadership from the textile industry and tire manufacturers to produce consumer products that don’t add to the growing problem.”
This Statewide Microplastic Strategy provides a multi-year roadmap for California to take a national and global leadership role in managing microplastics pollution by utilizing a two-track approach to manage microplastic pollution.
The first track lists 22 immediate, “no regrets” actions and multi-benefit solutions to reduce and manage microplastic pollution:
- Pollution Prevention: Eliminate plastic waste at the source (products or materials from which microplastics originate).
- Pathway Interventions: Intervene within specific pathways (stormwater runoff, wastewater, aerial deposition) that mobilize microplastics into California waters.
- Outreach & Education: Engage and inform the public and industries of microplastic sources, impacts, and solutions.
The second track outlines a 13-point comprehensive research strategy to enhance the scientific understanding of microplastics in California and inform future action:
Science to Inform Future Action
- Monitoring: Standardize a statewide monitoring approach. Understand and identify trends of microplastic pollution statewide.
- Risk Thresholds & Assessment: Improve understanding of impacts to aquatic life and human health.
- Sources & Pathways Prioritization: Identify and prioritize future management solutions based on local data.
- Evaluating New Solutions: Develop and implement future pollution prevention and pathway intervention solutions.
Microplastics are considered pervasive and persistent global pollutants, with microplastics increasingly observed even in remote environments. The California Legislature recognized the need for a comprehensive plan to address this environmental challenge with the adoption of Senate Bill 1263 (Portantino) in 2018, requiring the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) to adopt a statewide research strategy and identify early actions to reduce microplastic pollution in California’s marine environment. The Statewide Microplastics Strategy was released for public comment beginning on December 21, 2021, with the comment period ending January 21, 2022. OPC received over 120 written comments from nearly 160 individuals, organizations, agencies, businesses and other entities. The final Statewide Microplastics Strategy was revised based on the public comment received to clarify the timeline of specific recommendations, to provide additional guidance for implementation of specific recommendations and to elevate equity and public transparency during the implementation of the final Strategy.
ABOUT THE CALIFORNIA OCEAN PROTECTION COUNCIL
The California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) ensures that California maintains healthy, resilient, and productive ocean and coastal ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. The OPC is committed to basing its decisions and actions on the best available science and to promoting the use of science among all entities involved in the management of ocean resources. OPC was created by the California Ocean Protection Act (COPA), which was signed into law in 2004 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.