Two congressmen have introduced a bipartisan bill that, if passed, could see a nationwide ban on the use of microbeads in soaps and cosmetics. The tiny balls of exfoliating plastic—commonly found in facial scrubs and the like—are recognized as a highly problematic source of pollution, soaking up chemicals such as flame retardants and carrying them through waterways and into the food chain.
Illinois recently became the first state introduce a ban on microbeads, which is set to come into effect in 2018, and California and New York states are also considering similar measures. But Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) think we can do one better, and have introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 in the hopes of passing a nationwide ban on the sale and distribution of all personal care products that contain microbeads.
Synthetic plastic microbeads are commonly found in facial wash, soap, and toothpaste. Just one single tube of cleanser can contain 300,000 of the tricky little things, and they’re included in products that are expressly designed to be washed down the drain and into our water systems.
Once there, the microbeads are small enough to evade filtration, and absorb toxins and carry them out into the waterways—where the beads, which are about the size of fish eggs and look rather like food—are then ingested by fish and other organisms. From here they enter the food chain, poisoning fish, wildlife and ultimately us.
Some cosmetics companies, including Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever have pledged to voluntarily phase out the use of plastic microbeads in their products—but there is far from an industry-wide consensus on the issue.
Rep. Pallone explains, “Many people buying these products are unaware of their damaging effects on the environment. If we know that these products will eventually reach our waterways, we must make sure that they don’t contain synthetic plastic that does not biodegrade and will ultimately pollute our waterways. By phasing out the use of plastic microbeads and transitioning to non-synthetic alternatives, we can protect U.S. waters before it’s too late.”
If the bill is passed, it would ban the sale and distribution of all products containing microbeads as of January 1, 2018.