Illinois Bans Microbeads in Personal Care

Illinois has become the first state in the United States to ban the sale and manufacture of personal care products containing microbeads. Illinois legislative bill SB2727 was signed into law on June 9, 2014, by state governor Pat Quinn. It prohibits the manufacture of microbead-containing products by the end of 2018, and the sale of them by the end of 2019. Other states, including New York and California, have recently considered similar legislation.

In a press statement, Quinn said, "Banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow. Lake Michigan and the many rivers and lakes across our state are among our most important natural resources. We must do everything necessary to safeguard them."

According to SB2727, although synthetic plastic microbeads are safe and effective mild abrasive ingredients for gently removing dead skin, there are concerns about the potential environmental impact of these materials. In fact, one recent CBS News report painted them as potentially dangerous contaminants, soaking up pesticides and chemicals after they are washed away and becoming "toxic pills" to wildlife. Although some point to flaws in this logic, several major cosmetic companies including Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive have already pledged to phase out the use of microbeads.

As reported on Unilever's website: The amount of plastic in the marine environment thought to originate from the use of plastic scrub beads in personal care products is considered to be limited compared to other sources. However, a number of stakeholders have expressed concerns about the growing presence and potential impact of micro-plastics in the marine environment and are looking at ways in which the amount of micro-plastics can be reduced, including from the use of plastic scrub beads in personal care products. ...

We have decided to phase-out plastic scrub beads from personal care products. This is because we believe we can provide consumers with products that deliver a similar exfoliating performance without the need to use plastics. We expect to complete this phase-out globally by 1 January, 2015, and are currently exploring which suitable alternatives can best match the sensory experience that the plastic scrub beads provide.

The Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), which helped to work on the Illinois legislation, urges policymakers considering similar legislation in other states to review the work it has accomplished in Illinois. The group released a statement, noting that "plastic microbeads are used in personal care cleansing products because of their exfoliating properties and excellent safety profile. However, our industry shares a common interest with other stakeholders in protecting the environment, and we take questions regarding the presence of plastic microbeads in our waterways very seriously. While we believe plastic microbeads in personal care cleansing products are not a significant contributor, our industry is demonstrating leadership on this issue by publicly announcing plans to phase out the use of these ingredients.

“We are pleased to highlight our work with numerous stakeholders in the state of Illinois. . .including state and local government officials, the Illinois Environmental Council, the Council for The Great Lakes and the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois," stated the PCPC. "Together, we are supporting legislation that will phase out the manufacture of personal care cleansing products containing plastic microbeads by December 31, 2017."

These regulatory actions may pose new hurdles to personal care product developers, but they also pave the way for new products with a newly identified market need.

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