Microplastics Policy Moves Forward in California

Our community’s voice brings textiles into stronger focus

Image courtesy of the Ocean Protection Council

Thanks to an outpouring of public comment earlier this year to the Ocean Protection Council, our Fibershed community’s voice helped shape next steps in California’s precedent-setting framework on state-led microplastic research, risk assessment and action.

In February, California’s Ocean Protection Council (OPC) finalized the Statewide Microplastics Strategy, a guiding document for the state legislature and state agencies that describes an action and research priority framework to address microplastic pollution. The Statewide Microplastics Strategy summarizes three years of work organized and funded through the Ocean Protection Council to assess risks and outline pathways by which microplastics enter waterways, air and soil. The Strategy also identifies immediate actions and longer-term considerations that can help mitigate the flow of those materials.

Fibershed has been sharing updates with our community about the California Microplastics Strategy development for more than a year, with particular attention on awareness of textile sources of microplastics. For background on why this is essential, see our recent article on Microplastics and Textiles.

Following publication of a draft version of the Statewide Microplastics Strategy in December 2021, Fibershed put out a call for public input encouraging OPC to include specific policy recommendations to reduce microplastic fiber pollution at its source in synthetic textile production. The draft Strategy placed a resounding emphasis on the importance of source reduction (preventing environmental release of plastic and microplastic, rather than relying on strategies to filter and clean up microplastics once they are already in the environment.) And the document highlighted supporting studies and reports all identifying microfibers as a priority among sources and types of microplastics. However, the draft did not contain any specific guidance on state policy action to reduce synthetic textile production and consumption (the source of the vast majority of microplastic microfibers), or to facilitate textile industry shifts to healthier options for biodegradable natural fiber textiles.

“…source reduction of plastics [is] one of the most effective precautionary strategies to reduce and prevent microplastics pollution, given the lack of feasible microplastics cleanup strategies, persistence of microplastics that enter the environment, and the need to prevent the internalization of microplastics by marine organisms.”
-Statewide Microplastics Strategy, Ocean Protection Council, 2022

Plastic fibers under magnification. Image courtesy of the Ocean Protection Council

OPC received a huge response from our fiber and textile community on the draft Microplastics Strategy. Fibershed developed a comment letter in collaboration with partner organizations and businesses involved in production and processing of natural fibers and textiles, and supported our community to write in with allied input. Of the 120 comment letters received in response to the draft Microplastics Strategy, 63 letters (signed by 81 individuals, organizations and businesses) echoed Fibershed’s call for including policy action to reduce synthetic textile production and use, while increasing support for healthy natural fiber textile systems. In reply to these comments, OPC added a list of topics to their recommendation for a textiles sector-specific workshop to produce explicit recommendations and immediate actions for microplastic pollution prevention. This list included the following:

  • Develop textile product labeling standards
  • Invest in natural textile processing and manufacturing systems in California
  • Evaluate potential toxicity of dyes and additives used on textile fibers
  • Evaluate and propose a policy framework to reduce synthetic fiber production and waste
  • Develop Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) strategies for the release of synthetic microfibers

For now, these topics are listed for further discussion and development in the textile sector-specific workshop to be put together by OPC in the coming months. We are extremely grateful to all of the members of our community who contributed letters and support in this process of public feedback on the California Statewide Microplastics Strategy. Your voices made a difference!

Fibershed will share additional updates about textile system opportunities as the California Microplastics Strategy is implemented and further developed. We will also be paying attention to ways that the California Statewide Microplastics Strategy could inform and be complemented by efforts in other regions to address microplastic pollution impacts of textiles, such as the European Union’s Initiative on Microplastic Pollution in development this year. Stay tuned!