California has just voted in favor of what could become the strictest ban in the U.S. on all products that contain plastic microbeads—the tiny gritty flecks found in a wide array of toothpastes and exfoliating body washes. Microbeads are typically smaller than five millimeters in diameter, but are a significant source of water pollution, with one jar of facial cleanser containing up to 300,000 tiny plastic pieces that wash down drains and accumulate in lakes, rivers and oceans. The bill to ban microbeads from California was passed this morning by the state assembly by 58 votes to 11, and must now pass the senate in order for it to go into effect as law on January 1, 2020.
Last year, Illinois became the first state in the U.S. to pass a ban on the usage of microbeads in cosmetics, approving a law that will go into effect in 2018, and earlier this year two congressmen introduced a bipartisan bill to outlaw the use of microbeads nationwide. And for exceptionally good reason; the beads, which serve as exfoliants and colorants are a massive source of water pollution, with scientists estimating that 471 million plastic microbeads are released into San Francisco Bay alone every single day.
These microbeads are small enough to pass through most forms of filtration, and once in the water they attract many environmental toxins before being mistaken by fish for food, causing pollution of the food chain. From there, the microbeads poison fish, wildlife and ultimately us. Not only that, but peridontists have shown that when microbeads are included in toothpaste, they can get stuck in gums and cause all manner of unpleasantness.
The California bill, AB. 888 was authored by Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), and sponsored by several environmental organizations. In a statement, Bloom explained “Continuing to use these harmful and unnecessary plastics when natural alternatives are widely available is simply irresponsible and will only result in significant cleanups costs to taxpayers who will have to foot the bill to restore our already limited water resources and ocean health.”
Although these synthetic microbeads are more expensive than natural alternatives—such as salt, apricot shells and cocoa beans—some high-profile companies including Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever have already pledged to phase out use of microbeads. And with California holding such a significant market share, plus 18 other states looking to ban the precocious plastic pieces and with legislation being drafted at a national level, it’s entirely plausible that other companies will follow suit and ban the bead. Indeed, as Bloom explained: “California is the seventh-largest economy in the world,” he said. “Manufacturers are going to tend to adhere to California standards.”