Legislation would curb plastic pollution in Great Lakes

Wisconsin Gazette

Wisconsin lawmakers may consider this legislative session bills to curb the amount of plastic pollution affecting area waters.

Evidence shows plastic microbeads getting into the Great Lakes, according to the Clean Wisconsin environmental group. The microbeads are small pieces of plastic added to products like body scrubs and toothpastes. Because of their small size, they can work through water treatment systems and into waterways and aquatic life, as well as human bodies. Once there, the microbeads keep adding up, because they don’t easily break down in the environment.

“It’s great to see these legislators proactively tackling this emerging environmental issue,” Tyson Cook, director of science and research at Clean Wisconsin, said in a news release. “Legislation like this is critical to protecting our water, our wildlife and our health, here and around the nation.”

The bills from state Sen. Rob Cowles and state Rep. Mary Czaja are based on Illinois’s 2014 law to ban microbeads. The bills would require that manufacturers phase out the use of microbeads in their products in the next few years and ultimately off store shelves. The bills are currently being circulated for co-sponsorship.

Clean Wisconsin cited recent research showing that the Great Lakes are teeming with microbeads. An average of 17,000 tiny pieces of plastic per square kilometer has been found in Lake Michigan. In addition to polluting the water, this plastic gets into fish, where it can harm their digestive systems. Chemicals in the plastic also can cause other abnormalities, and the microbeads can kickstart the process of biomagnification, which causes much greater concentrations of chemicals in animals higher up the food chain.

“While some major companies have agreed to eventually phase out microbeads, it’s imperative that we do all we can to protect our waters and reduce the use of unnecessary microbeads,” stated Cook. “Having focused on keeping pollution out of our waterways for over four decades, Clean Wisconsin is happy to see these among the first bills of the new session and help move them forward.”