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New York and California Introduce Legislation to Ban Plastic Microbeads in Cosmetics

Insights + Opinion

Design matters more than recycling. Microbeads don’t make the cut, designed to wash down the drain into your local waterway. They are irrecoverable and therefore never recycled.

Microbeads, those little polyethylene scrubbers in facial cleansers, are now on the way out thanks to the one-two legislative punch. The New York state district attorney’s office proposed a bill to ban microplastics in cosmetics, followed by the same bill introduced to the California legislature a few days later by Assemblyman Richard Bloom. These two markets, if lost, will drive producers to reconsider putting microbeads in future products.

The 5 Gyres Institute led the legislative front. “We’re about doing the research to back up our campaigns,” said Executive Director Anna Cummins. Surveys of the Great Lakes in 2012 and 2013, in collaboration with SUNY Fredonia aboard the Flagship Niagara, found microbeads in the five Great Lakes.

Presumably the 1/3 mm beads come from poor waste treatment, either using sieves too large to capture microplastics, combined sewage overflow pumping raw sewage into the lakes on heavy rain days or using treated solids full of plastic as fertilizer on public lands. One or all of these three sources are responsible for hundreds of microplastics floating from our cities.

“Legislation levels the playing field,” said Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres. The ball began rolling early last year with another organization in Europe called the Plastic Soup Foundation campaigned heavily resulting in the company Unilever banning microbeads in their products by 2015.

“After our research teams found the first evidence of microbeads in the environment, we felt confident to launch our campaign,” said Cummins. Soon Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson began making noise about phasing out microbeads on a multi-year time line.

Despite these voluntary efforts, we pressed for legislation. We’re confident is will pass.

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.

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