California knows how to party.

Under Malibu moonlight in a famed inn by the sea, a well-heeled group of enviro do-gooders reveled in victory. Not gloatingly, but with a long and deep exhale. They did it. They got little pieces of plastic shite out of our waterways. It wasn’t easy. It never is. But with a play-ball attitude led by multiple NGOs and Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom, they got microbeads banned out of beauty products and toothpastes in the state of California.

“Being across the street from the ocean on an extraordinary beautiful SoCal evening was a nice touch for a party that brought advocates together to celebrate an important victory for the aquatic environment,” said Bloom. 


From left to right: Evelyn Wendel, Founder of We Tap; Lisa Kass Boyle, Attorney & Co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition; Asm. Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica); Dianna Cohen, CEO & Co-founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition

Microbeads are marketed under myriad names but as often goes without end-of-use forethought, someone forgot about the food chain. As the microbeads slip down our faucets into waterways, they get chowed on by unsuspecting fish and end up back in us. Yuck. Gross.

As soon as reports started to come out that scientists like Dr. Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute and a handful of others were tracing these plastic bits to specific products, manufacturers volunteered to remove them but on their own timetable and with caveats.

“We found a smoking gun in the form of microbeads,” said Eriksen, who published a report on his findings helping to mobilize California’s campaign. “This awoke the beast, whereby the plastics industry put their own legislation into every state in the US, with a long list of other plastic alternatives for microbeads. What looked like an industry driven microbead legislative bill, was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and did more harm than good for the environment.”

Donnybrooks ensued, as double bills were introduced throughout the country.

Despite the fact that California’s ban doesn’t take affect until 2020, a compromise, Bloom said it sent the message.

In a statement for Fox & Hounds, Johnson & Johnson said they are phasing out microbeads from their products by 2017, in advance of California’s deadline.

Illinois policymakers were the first to enforce a ban after microbeads were in the Great Lakes but they allowed a compromise for “biodegradable products.”

That’s where Bloom says his group drew a line.

“It was too vague and it could mean anything,” he said. “We couldn’t take the risk of plastics in any form seeping back into the products.”

Bloom, a former Santa Monica city councilman vested in the movement to ban single use plastic bags, said when 5 Gyres brought him the microbead issue he felt it was a no-brainer, and in the law’s first attempt at bat in 2014, they lost by one vote.

“We missed it by that much!” said Bloom, affecting his best Maxwell Smart. “But we knew we had something when the Personal Care Products Association removed its opposition to our ban.”

A year later, NGOs such as Surfrider, Heal the Bay, 5 Gyres, Californians Against Waste, National Resources Defense Council and Clean Water Action continued to raise awareness and help get the bill AB888 passed.

Diana Cohen, the CEO & Co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, said putting up a united front made all the difference.

“These NGOs with different focus areas came together in collaboration to activate the power that comes from combining forces,” she said.

As the revelry wound down at the Reel Inn on Pacific Coast Highway, the site of the victory bash, Anna Cummins of the 5 Gyres Institute, handed bloom a bag of artifacts: Soon-to-be-discontinued beauty products filled with microplastics. Cohen handed him a food grade stainless steel straw. She and Cummins put him on notice: they’re coming for plastic straws next.

Anyone who’s ever done a creek cleanup knows that those bad actors wedge themselves into the soil like roots of non-trees and get stuck up the noses of turtles.

When it comes to microbeads, I think we can safely score one for a group of Californians who came together for a few hours under Malibu moonlight to cosmically reassure the masses that someone is looking out.


Heidi Siegmund Cuda is a former Los Angeles Times nightlife columnist and music critic who is documenting the movement to rethink throwaway living.