Microbead Ban Legislation Passes U.S. House


In a unanimous voice vote, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that would prohibit plastic microbeads nationwide beginning on January 1, 2018. 

With an aim to protect U.S. waterways from synthetic plastic microbeads, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 co-sponsored by Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit the manufacture and sale of personal care products that contain microbeads.

According to the bill, H.R. 3121, "the term ‘plastic microbead’ means any solid plastic particle that is less than five millimeters in size and is intended to be used to exfoliate or cleanse the human body or any part thereof;" and “(B) the term ‘rinse-off cosmetic’ includes toothpaste."

“It is our responsibility to implement a nationwide ban on plastic microbeads, and spur a transition to non-synthetic alternatives," said Pallone. "[This] House passage is an important step towards putting a stop to this unnecessary plastic pollution, and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to see this much-needed legislation become law."

Proponents of the microbeads ban have argued that fish often mistake non-biodegradable plastic microbeads for food and eat them, resulting in toxins further up the food chain. Research at Plymouth University, published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, has shown that up to tens of thousands of microbeads, each a fraction of a millimeter in diameter, could be released in every single application of certain products, such as facial scrubs. As a result, nine U.S. states, most recently California, have passed legislation to ban microbeads and several other jurisdictions, including New York, are in discussions to implement similar bans on the local and state levels. The U.S. Senate has yet to vote on the matter of a national ban.

“These microbeads are tiny plastic, but big time pollution,” said Upton. “As someone who grew up on Lake Michigan and represents a large chunk of Michigan coastline, I understand firsthand how important it is to maintain the beauty and integrity of our Great Lakes. They may be smaller than a pinhead, but once they’ve been flushed down the drain is where the problem starts.” 

A number of cosmetic and personal care companies, including multinational giants, have already eliminated or have announced plans to eliminate microbeads from their products such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Beiersdorf, Colgate-Palmolive and L'Oréal.

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