United Nations Adopts Historic Resolution to End Plastic Pollution

Today, after a week of debate, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) in Nairobi unanimously approved a resolution to end plastic pollution, setting the stage to create a legally binding treaty by 2024 to prevent and reduce global plastic pollution.

Microplastics image courtesy NOAA

Plastic production has risen exponentially in the last decades with 11 million metric tons estimated to end up in the world’s ocean each year.

The landmark agreement commits to addressing the full lifecycle of plastics and calls for enhanced international collaboration to advance solutions and circular economy approaches – to reduce the impact of plastic pollution from its source to the sea.

The resolution aligns with the Statewide Microplastic Strategy adopted by the Ocean Protection Council on February 23, 2022, recognizing: … read more

California Takes Decisive Action to Reduce Microplastics Pollution: State Adopts a First-in-Nation Approach to Protecting Ocean and Human Health 

Trash at Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA. Photo by Shira Bezalel, San Francisco Estuary Institute.

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. … read more

Landmark Statewide Microplastics Strategy Recommends Early Actions and Research Priorities to Reduce Microplastic Pollution

In response to increasing concern about pervasive and persistent pollution caused by microplastics, California has prepared a first-of-its-kind Statewide Microplastics Strategy that recommends early actions and research priorities to reduce microplastic pollution in California’s marine environment. The Strategy follows the direction of Senate Bill 1263 (Portantino), which was signed into law in 2018 and is scheduled for adoption by the Ocean Protection Council at its Wednesday, Feb. 23 meeting. 

University of Toronto / Tsui, N.

Essential to California’s Microplastic Strategy is the recognition that decisive, precautionary action to reduce microplastic pollution must be taken now, such as taking comprehensive action to reduce single-use plastics and other top sources of marine litter, while scientific knowledge and understanding of microplastics sources, impacts, and successful reduction measures continue to grow. Plastics are ubiquitous in both our daily lives and in the environment. Worldwide, an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, and 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.  

Microplastics are easily ingested by marine life, causing harm such as tissue inflammation, impaired growth, developmental anomalies, and reproductive difficulties. Microplastics have also been found in human stool, lung, and placenta samples, indicating the potential for human health impacts, 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 identified sources of microplastics in California bay and ocean waters, sediment, and fish tissue.

The Statewide Microplastics Strategy sets a multi-year roadmap for California to take a national and global leadership role in managing microplastics pollution. The Strategy outlines a two-track approach to comprehensively manage microplastic pollution: the first track lists immediate, no regrets actions and multi-benefit solutions to reduce and manage microplastic pollution, and the second track outlines a comprehensive research strategy to enhance the scientific understanding of microplastics in California and inform future action.  

Photo courtesy National Science Foundation/SCR #193528

Solutions 

  • Pollution Prevention: Eliminate plastic waste at the source (products or materials from which microplastics originate). 
  • Pathway Interventions: Intervene within specific pathways (ex: 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. 

Science to Inform Future Action 

  • Monitoring: 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 & prioritize future management solutions based on local data. 
  • Evaluating New Solutions: Develop and implement future solutions.  

The public is invited to participate in the Feb. 23 meeting. Agenda and instructions on joining can be found here.

OPC’s Year in Review: Meeting Challenges, Advancing Equity, Protecting Our Ocean

“As we look to 2022, our goal at the agency is to… continue California’s global leadership, combating climate change, transitioning our economy, and protecting our people and nature in the meantime. I believe strongly that people are resilient and that nature is resilient. We can adapt and weather these changes we are experiencing right now, and we at the Natural Resources Agency and across state government are focused on strengthening the resilience of our communities, our residents, and of our natural places to these changes we are experiencing. I’m optimistic that we will work harder than ever before and make unprecedented process toward building this resilience.” – from California Natural Resources Secretary and Ocean Protection Council Chair Wade Crowfoot’s end of the year video message

As 2021 brought global challenges to the forefront, the state of California responded with bold, decisive actions to protect our coast and ocean. OPC staff led multiple projects designed to restore wetlands, improve water quality, prevent plastic pollution, respond to environmental justice inequities, promote sustainable fisheries, protect marine wildlife and build resilience to climate change.

Despite the many looming threats, we continue to find hope in the form of scientific solutions to the planet’s biggest problems and in the promising work done by our grantees on the front lines. Join us in celebrating specific achievements from the past year below: … read more

Draft Statewide Microplastics Strategy is Available for Public Comment

OPC is pleased to release the draft Statewide Microplastics Strategy, which outlines a statewide research strategy and recommended early actions to reduce microplastic pollution in California’s marine environment, consistent with Senate Bill 1263 (Portantino, 2018).

We welcome feedback on this draft Strategy.

Public comment should be submitted to OPCmicroplastics@resources.ca.gov by 5:00 pm on January 21, 2022.

 A revised draft, based on public comment, is anticipated to be released in February 2022 for consideration by the Ocean Protection Council at its February 23, 2022 meeting. Questions can be directed to OPC’s Water Quality Program Manager, Kaitlyn Kalua at Kaitlyn.Kalua@resources.ca.gov.

New Report: Understanding the Flow of Microplastics from our Cities to the Ocean

Despite increased awareness, plastic pollution continues to infiltrate our oceans and beaches, littering the seafloor, ocean surface, beaches and shorelines. It also takes a toll on our economy: California communities spend more than $428 million annually to clean up and control plastic pollution. Because plastic never truly degrades, only breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, clean up and control is extraordinarily difficult.

The good news is California has been a leader in slowing down plastic at the source by banning single-use plastic bags and the use of microplastics in face scrubs and toothpaste. Microplastics, those under five millimeters in size, are found even in places considered “pristine,” as well as in drinking water and food, including shellfish, salt, beer, and honey.

Understanding how microplastics end up where they do is critical to eliminating them from the environment. Toward that goal, OPC funded a study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), A Synthesis of Microplastic Sources and Pathways to Urban Runoff.

Building on SFEI’s major finding that storm-driven runoff from cities is a major pathway for microplastics to enter California’s waterways, this new report pulls together available information on pollution sources, including textiles, cigarette filters, other fibers, single-use plastic foodware and vehicle tires. It illustrates how plastic products break down into microplastic particles as they move through the environment, traveling through the air, depositing on the urban landscape, and washing into streams, rivers, and coastal locations during storm events.

SFEI’s findings, alongside the Microplastic Pollution in California: A Precautionary Framework and Scientific Guidance to Assess and Address the Risk to the Marine Environment released in May 2021, provide the foundation for the forthcoming Statewide Microplastics Strategy being developed by OPC pursuant to SB 1263 (Portantino, 2018), which will be considered for adoption by the Council at its Feb 2022 meeting.

Together, these reports have informed a two-prong approach to addressing microplastic pollution: ‘no-regrets’ actions that can be employed now to prevent the proliferation of microplastic pollution, and identifying California-specific research needs to inform future action.