Illinois passed a bill last Sunday that makes it the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic microbeads in soaps and cosmetics. From the end of 2018 it will be illegal to manufacture products containing microbeads in the state, and from the end of 2019 it will be illegal to sell them as well. With other legislatures such as New York and California considering similar bans, it is hoped Sunday’s bill will set a precedent.
Plastic microbeads are pernicious little things. It is estimated that a single tube of facial cleanser contains on average 300,000 of them, with some brands having as many as 360,000 microbeads per tube. Because they are so small — designed, in fact, to wash down the drain with no recapture plan in place — they slip through filtration systems and wind up in waterways. And that’s where that they really begin to do their damage. As if it wasn’t bad enough that fish eat the microbeads, mistaking them for food, the microbeads also soak up pollutants such as PCBs from the water and deliver them straight into the digestive tracts of marine creatures.
The abundance of microbeads being found in the already stressed environment of the Great Lakes prompted the Illinois state legislature to take action. “Banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow,” said Governor Pat Quinn in a statement. “Lake Michigan and the many rivers and lakes across our state are among our most important natural resources. We must do everything necessary to safeguard them.”
There has naturally been a push back by the cosmetics industry and this is believed to have caused delays in legislation in other states. However, lobbyist group The Personal Care Products Council stated on Sunday, “We urge policy makers who are considering similar legislation in other states to review the work we have accomplished in Illinois with all sectors of the business community.” Already several cosmetics companies, among them Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever, have pledged to phase out microbeads without being legally required to do so.