Citizens concerned about the build-up of plastic in our environment can celebrate a major victory. The state of California just passed legislation banning soap, toothpaste, face wash and other personal care products from containing plastic microbeads.
Microbeads are usually made from non-biodegradable plastic. They most commonly show up on labels as synthetic compounds like polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon, reports Alternet.org. According to the 5 Gyres Institute, which advocates for a plastic-free ocean, a single container of facial cleanser can harbor more than 300,000 microbeads.
The plastic particles are added to products we use every day, like face wash and toothpaste, to give them more scrubbing power. These microbeads are so small that when they wash down the drain, they’re not trapped by the filters at water treatment plants. As a result, they’re building up in our lakes, streams, and rivers, where they attract other toxins that might be in the water before being inadvertently eaten by fish and other aquatic animals.
We’ll never get rid of the plastic microbeads that are already loose in our waters. But we can make sure the problem doesn’t get worse. Some companies, in response to consumer concern, have voluntarily replaced plastic microbeads with natural, biodegradable materials. Colgate Palmolive told Fox News that, in response to customer concern, they stopped using microbeads as of the end of 2014. Both Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson plan to have eliminated the use of polyethylene microbeads in their personal care products by the end of 2017.
However, other companies continue to use microbeads, which is why governments are taking action.
“A recent study found a staggering amount of micro-plastic pollution in the San Francisco Bay, but these beads have also been found in the open ocean, rivers, and the Great Lakes,” said California Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who sponsored the bill there, calling plastic microbeads “a pervasive source of plastic pollution.”
Illinois has also banned the manufacture and sale of personal care products that contain microbeads, but the new law won’t start going into effect until 2017, and even then, the phase-in will be gradual. Several other states, including Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, and Oregon are looking to follow suit.
On the federal level, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is pushing for a federal ban. A report found thousands of plastic particles per square kilometer in Lake Erie and up to 1.1 million particles per square kilometer in Lake Ontario. Gillibrand has asked the EPA to add microbeads and microplastics to the list of Great Lakes contaminants.
Some companies are voluntarily replacing their plastic microbeads with ground coconut shells and other biologically-based scrubbers. However, they will continue to sell the products that contain plastic microbeads until that inventory is gone, so the plastic build-up will continue.
Unless, that is, you stop buying products that contain the beads. For starters, consider whether you really need exfoliating face wash or whether a loofah or wash cloth will work just as well – and save your money, to boot. Buying one loofah that you use for a year could save you at least $60 on face scrub or body wash.
When you do shop, look for products that use coconut shells, cocoa beans, apricot pits, and other clearly biological ingredients to give their soap and shampoo scrubbing oomph. BigGreenPurse.com lists products determined safe and contain no plastic.
Avoid any products that list “microbeads,” polyethylene, or polypropylene among their ingredients. Specific products that may contain plastic microbeads in facewash include those made by Aveeno, Bath & Body Works, Clearasil, Clarins, CVS, Walgreen, Olay and RiteAid. See the complete list at BeattheMicroBead.org, where you can also download a handy mobile app you can use when you shop.
Conscious consumers and the planet win when we shop healthy!
NOTE: Moms Clean Air Force has previously raised the alarm about microplastic fibers that are washing out of fleece clothing and blankets. Fleece is made from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles and other discarded plastic. When it is washed, tiny fibers break off and wash down the drains. Like plastic microbeads, fleece fibers accumulate in the ocean, rivers, lakes and streams. They may soak up other pollutants in the water and be eaten by fish, birds, frogs, and turtles. There doesn’t appear to be much you can do about reducing the impact of fleece you already own, short of not wearing it any more. However, think twice about buying more fleece. Maybe good old cotton and wool will work just as well.
Photo: Beat the Microbead