Last week, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, banning the use of synthetic microplastics in personal care products. If made into law, the federal ban will supersede the state bans, and lead to a phase-out by January, 2018.
What’s the big deal?
Manufacturers add these tiny plastic beads to personal care products for extra “scrubbing” power. Most often found in exfoliating face scrubs, whitening toothpaste and shower gels, these microplastics are so small they pass through municipal water treatment filters and end up in streams, rivers, lakes … and ultimately the ocean. They absorb other toxics in the environment and bioaccumulate in fish.
“Microbeads are a perfect example of how too often the manufacturers of personal care products don’t consider the consequences of their use of chemicals. This was a completely avoidable environmental problem. Our oceans are already polluted with massive quantities of plastic trash, it’s hard to understand how anyone could think dumping trillions of tiny, undegradable plastic beads wouldn’t have an ecological impact.” – Dr. Bill Pease, Chief Scientist, GoodGuide
Weren’t these banned already?
A few states have been successful in passing a microbead ban.
Illinois passed a microbead ban in the summer of 2014, after a team of researchers from the US based 5 Gyres Institute measured the quantity of microplastics in the waters of the Great Lakes. With their startling results, legislation was drafted and passed just a year later. This successful legislative move made Illinois both the first state and the first jurisdiction in the world to ban microplastics from personal care products.
Six more states have enacted legislation to restrict the sale and distribution of products containing microplastics, they are Maine, New Jersey, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland and California.
However, several of the state plans include a 5 year phase out schedule with loopholes that leave room for microplastics to be replaced with “biodegradable plastics”. Bioplastics can break down faster than other plastics, but it requires extreme heat only found in an industrial composting setting. These plastics won’t degrade as expected in the marine environment.
“Everything on earth is biodegradable on a geological time scale,” Mr. Wilson said. “It’s not biodegradable in a meaningful time frame.” – Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns at The Story of Stuff Project.
If passed into law, the federal ban will supersede the state bans allowing for a faster phase-out and possibly close the loophole that leaves room for bioplastics to be used instead.
You Can Help Ban the Bead Way Before 2018!
You can stop the flow of microbeads today by skipping products with microbeads on the ingredient list. Check the ingredient labels of your personal care products and skip any with the following ingredients: polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, and polymethyl methacrylate.
Take action! The federal bill is now headed for the President’s desk. The team at 5 Gyres has created an online petition to ban the bead. Visit Ban the Microbead petition online, fill out the form and let your voice be heard!