Plastic microbeads could be banned from personal care products in the U.S. by 2018

plastic microbeads
© Marcus Eriksen, 5 Gyres. Microplastics found in Lake Michigan.

Today, Congressman Frank Pallone introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that could ban the sale of products containing microbeads in the U.S. by 2018. Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic used as exfoliants in a range of self-care products, including face wash, soaps and toothpaste.

Plastic microbeads are too small to be properly filtered out of household waste water by most municipal treatment facilities. The result is that many tiny bits of plastic end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. This form of plastic pollution is extremely difficult to remove, and can even be ingested by fish and other wildlife.

“We have a responsibility to put a stop to this unnecessary plastic pollution,” Pallone said in a press release. “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.”

Most microbeads are petroleum-based plastics, like polyethylene and polypropylene. There are many biodegradable alternatives already in use by some cosmetic makers, including almonds, sea salts and ground apricot pits.

A representative from Pallone’s office said the full text of the bill will be available tomorrow morning.

If passed, a federal level ban could be a huge win for those fighting to protect our waterways. “I’m genuinely thrilled to see this being introduced at the national level,” said Anna Cummins, a co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, which is dedicated to researching and reducing plastic pollution.

Having not seen the full text, Cummins expressed concern the federal ban might include industry-introduced language that could override work being done at the state level. Another concern is the possibility of exemptions for bio-based plastics, which are not marine degradable and pose many of the same problems as petroleum-derived products.

The federal ban comes a week after the State of Illinois banned the sale of microbeads in cosmetics by 2017. Cummins said the 2018 timeline is a bit long, but the organization could live with that date as a compromise to see microplastics banned nation-wide.

Plastic microbeads could be banned from personal care products in the U.S. by 2018
These tiny beads found in soap and face wash are a major source of plastic pollution.

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