Microplastic has become an insidious source of pollution in our lakes, streams, and oceans. The tiny plastic beads are added to face wash, body scrub, cleansers, and even toothpaste to provide more scrubbing power. Scientists estimate there are about 300,000 microbeads in an average bottle of face scrub. The beads could be labelled as polyethylene in the product ingredients, or HDPE (high-density polyethylene), or PEHD, reports Australia’s ABC News.
The beads are so small, they don’t get filtered out by municipal wastewater treatment plants when they get washed down the drain. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade or decompose, so once the beads get into our waters, they stay there and get eaten by fish, birds, and other wildlife. Plastic has a tendency to absorb other pollutants. When fish eat the plastic, they concentrate those pollutants in their flesh. So, if you eat fish, you could be eating toxic plastic, too.
As we reported earlier, California has passed a strong law that banned personal care products from containing plastic microbeads, and many other states, especially those that border the Great Lakes, started to follow suit. However, what was really needed was national legislation that would ban plastic microbeads across the US. On Monday, December 28, 2015, that’s exactly what happened when President Barack Obama signed the bipartisan “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.”
Also known as H.R. 1321, the legislation “prohibits the manufacture and introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads.” The law phases microbeads out of consumer products over the next few years, reports Mlive.com (Michigan Live), starting with a ban on manufacturing the beads in July 2017, followed by product-specific manufacturing and sales bans in 2018 and 2019.
The act defines microbeads as “any solid plastic particle” less than 5 millimeters in size that is intended as an exfoliant. (For comparison, this is about the size of the tip of your pen). This definition will make it difficult for manufacturers to switch to a different type of plastic, though, why they need to when so many safe plant-based options are available is not clear.
Meanwhile, don’t wait until 2017 to make your own shift to plastic-free face wash. You can use a loofah sponge or wash cloth to get the same scrubbing power. Or, look for personal care products that use bio exfoliants like apricot shells and coconut husks instead of plastic, such as those listed here.
And enjoy this victory, which came about because activists at Moms Clean Air Force and other organizations took two important steps:
- They made their concerns known to their elected officials.
- They used their clout as consumers to shift their buying power to safer, healthier products.
You might also want to cheer on consumers and environmentalists in Australia. They’ve already convinced supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles to pledge to remove microbeads from personal care products sold in their stores “Down Under.” Activists are now working on a national ban there.
Image: 5 Gyres Institute