US bans microbeads

President Obama signs ban on polluting plastic microbeads in beauty products

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 4 January 2016

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod


President Obama has signed into law a bill phasing out the manufacture of facewash, toothpaste and shampoo containing plastic microbeads by July 1, 2017 and the sale of such beauty products by July 1, 2018.

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Plastic pollution

Following in the footsteps of the historic microbead ban enacted in California earlier in 2015, the Microbead-Free Waters Act (H.R. 1321) bans all plastic microbeads from beauty products, including those made from so-called ‘biodegradable plastics’ – most of which do not biodegrade in marine environments.

‘Our oceans are inundated with microplastics that threaten sea birds, turtles and other marine wildlife. Now we can stop adding to the trillions of pieces already out there.

‘This will eliminate a pointless and harmful source of plastic pollution before it ever has a chance to reach the oceans.’

Blake Kopcho, oceans campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity

Microbeads in waterways

The Microbead-Free Waters Act, introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), is an important step towards addressing the global crisis of microplastic pollution.

Plastic microbeads — designed to be washed down the drain and too small to be reliably captured by wastewater treatment facilities — pollute lakes, rivers and oceans.

One tube of exfoliating facewash can contain more than 350,000 microbeads, and it’s estimated that 2.9 trillion microbeads enter US waterways ever year.

Impact on wildlife

Once in the environment, plastic microbeads concentrate toxins such as pesticides and flame retardants on their surface, which may then transfer to the tissue of fish that mistake microbeads for food. A recent study found that one quarter of fish purchased at California markets had ingested plastic.

‘Microbeads are highly toxic to the natural environment and the wildlife that live there. A ban on the use of microbeads in personal care products makes perfect sense because natural alternatives already exist. The cosmetics and personal care industry can be a crucial partner in this effort.

‘In New York State alone, 19 tons of microbeads are washed down the drain every year. They collect pollutants such as DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and then become part of the food chain when fish mistake them for food.’

John Calvelli, Wildlife Conservation Society

Click here to find out more about the Wildlife Conservation Society’s work to protect wildlife.

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