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Alumna’s eco-passion leads to microbeads ban

February 15, 2016


Tulane Law graduate Lisa Kaas Boyle (L ’90, far left) joined a 2015 expedition researching plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean. The group included Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of explorer Jacques Cousteau, and singer Jack Johnson, who has embraced environmental causes.

Photos courtesy of Lisa Kaas Boyle

President Barack Obama’s Dec. 28 signing of a national ban on plastic microbeads in products like face scrub and toothpaste brought California environmental attorney Lisa Kaas Boyle full-circle back to Tulane Law School.

As a student-attorney in the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, Boyle (L ’90) first learned about plastic pollution through representing a client. She used First Amendment public-forum doctrine to help Greenpeace get a display on the downside of petrochemicals into the lobby of Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources headquarters.

After years of working on legal strategies to prevent and reduce plastic pollution in the world’s waterways, she was instrumental in pushing a ban on microbeads through the California Legislature in September 2015. Within months, Congress had approved an even stronger bill that will take microbead-containing rinse-off cosmetics off store shelves starting in 2017.

“And it was bipartisan,” Boyle said of the new Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. “It’s beautiful.”


Advocating for the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which President Obama signed in December, Marcus Eriksen and Lia Colabello of the 5 Gyres Institute and attorney Lisa Kaas Boyle (L ’90) met with Tuley Wright, legislative director to bill sponsor Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey.

She credits the Tulane Environmental Law Journal summer 2014 issue, which was devoted to plastic pollution, with spreading awareness of the problem. The edition’s proposed law and policy changes to eradicate different types of plastic pollution were underscored by research conducted in part by the 5 Gyres Institute, whose co-founder Marcus Eriksen was a featured speaker at that year’s Tulane Summit on Environmental Law & Policy.

For instance, researchers have found that thousands of the tiny plastic beads get washed down the drain and make their way into bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, where they collect toxins, get eaten by fish then move into the human diet. Environmentalists argue that the particles, which often are used as exfoliants, are unnecessary, and that natural ingredients, such as apricot shells or crushed cocoa beans, could be used instead. 

“We paired science with law in each article,” Boyle said of the journal. “The idea was, we should be taking the best science to legal policy. And, in this case, it really worked.”

The journal included a model bill, drafted by Boyle and Rachel Doughty of Greenfire Law in San Francisco and promoted by 5 Gyres, that provided a framework for California’s law banning microplastics in personal care products. That then developed into the federal law sponsored by Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, and Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican. Upton chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Pallone is the ranking member.

The new statute supercedes laws in California, Illinois and several other states and takes effect sooner than they would have. But because the federal version still doesn’t prohibit sale of products in which plastic beads are used as wrinkle-fillers, she plans to continue working on getting those off the market.


Environmental lawyer Lisa Kaas Boyle (L ’90, far right) started decades of advocacy against plastic pollution while a student-attorney with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.

“The only way we’re going to clean up the ocean is to stop putting things in it,” she said.

Eriksen, research director for California-based 5 Gyres, said getting the federal law enacted took a broad coalition of advocates. He praised Boyle for championing a model bill and securing its publication in the Tulane journal. “She understood the necessity of strategy to follow scientific discovery,” he said. Without that kind of strong foundation for a particular approach, he said, “all too often, an environmental problem gets aggressively solved on terms laid out by the producers.”

Although plastic pollution is increasing, Boyle said she’s hopeful about solutions. She helped with efforts to persuade California lawmakers in 2014 to ban plastic shopping bags (the law goes before voters in November), and others jurisdictions are trying to reduce or eliminate single-use plastics, such as foam food containers.

While plastics can benefit society — think artificial limbs or lighter car parts — Boyle said she’ll continue looking for legal policy solutions that can retain plastics as an important resource while curbing harmful uses.

Boyle, who returns to campus when she can, said she “learned so much being at Tulane and in the Environmental Law Clinic.”

Tulane Law Professor Oliver Houck said she “was a classroom star here at the law school and a very effective student attorney. Even then she was thinking strategically about issues, and absolutely unafraid to pursue them.”

After law school, she also married classmate David Boyle (L ’90), who handles business and legal affairs for independent filmmakers and financiers. He’s head of business and legal affairs for Red Granite Pictures, which financed the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street” and co-financed/co-produced the recent Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy “Daddy’s Home.” 


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