Small pieces of plastic—called microbeads—are accumulating in waterways across the U.S., and 15 states have passed or introduced legislation to address the problem. Microbeads are exfoliants commonly found in personal care products like soap. Due to the small nature of microbeads—less than one millimeter in diameter—the majority of water treatment plants are unsuitable for removing these particles from outgoing water.
Once in the environment, microbeads absorb toxins before being ingested by fish that mistake them as a source of food. These toxins accumulate as they move up the food chain, and eventually pose a risk to humans and wildlife eating the fish.
The personal care industry is currently working on bio-based plastic alternatives. However, these plastics, including Polylactic Acid, may not biodegrade in water and therefore could create the same environmental issues as the microbeads currently on the market.
1) Microbeads and other plastic pollutants can linger in the environment for over 50 years, slowly accumulating toxins and working up the food chain.
2) The Great Lakes account for 20% of the world’s freshwater, yet host an average of 17,000 pieces of microbeads per square kilometer. (NPR)
3) More than 11,000 pounds of microbeads are annually added to Wisconsin waterways alone. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
4) Companies like L’Oreal and Johnson & Johnson recently announced plans to phase out microbeads, but it’s unclear whether they will use sustainable alternatives or other plastics.
- In June 2014, Illinois passed legislation banning the use of microbeads, but it only applied to non-biodegradable plastic. This will allow the use of plant-based plastic, which may not biodegrade in water. You can read the full bill text here.
- At least 15 states have introduced legislation to ban microbeads in the near future, including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
- HB 14–Ban Plastic Microbeads in Cosmetics
- HB 2464–Synthetic Plastic Microbead Products: Prohibition
- HB 1144–Prohibit Plastic Microbeads Personal Care Products
- HB 5286–Prohibiting the Import and Sale of Cosmetics that Contain Microbeads
- HB 5403–To prevent microbeads from entering the state’s waterways and to prevent the toxins contained in such microbeads from bioaccumulating in fish and humans.
- HB 5727–To ban microbeads from personal care products sold in the state.
- HB 6081–To protect consumers by regulating the manufacturing and sale of synthetic plastic microbeads.
- HB 621–Gradually prohibits the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing synthetic plastic microbeads to protect marine life.
- SB 575–Beginning on January 1, 2016, prohibits the sale of personal care products that contain synthetic plastic microbeads, excluding personal care products that contain synthetic plastic microbeads that are less than one part per million by weight, natural exfoliants, and personal care products that contain only biodegradable synthetic plastic microbeads. Establishes the plastic pollution special fund and requires violators to pay a fine that is deposited into the general fund and the plastic pollution special fund.
- SB 689–Prohibits the sale of personal care products that contain plastic microbeads beginning on December 31, 2017. Requires violators to pay a fine.
- SC2015 70–Personal-care Products: Microbeads
- SR2015 31–Personal Care Products: Microbeads
- HF 439–A bill for an act prohibiting the production, manufacture, sale, or offer for sale of personal care or dental products containing microbeads in this state, and providing penalties.
- HB 1185–Synthetic Plastic Microbeads
- HB 1934–An Act Relative to microbead free waters
- HB 2063–An Act relative to the manufacture or sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads
- SB 463–An Act to ensure microbead-free water
- HB 216–Personal Care Products Containing Synthetic Plastic Microbeads – Prohibition on Manufacturing or Sale
- SB 200–Personal Care Products Containing Synthetic Plastic Microbeads – Prohibition on Manufacturing or Sale
- LD 85—An Act To Prohibit Synthetic Plastic Microbeads in Personal Care Products and Over-the-counter Drugs
- HB 4345—Environmental protection; other; sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads; prohibit.
- SB 158—Environmental protection; other; sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads; prohibit.
- HF 541–Sale of personal care products containing synthetic plastic microbeads prohibited, and civil penalties provided.
- HF 834—Synthetic plastic microbead sale prohibited in personal care products.
- SF 507—Personal care products containing microbeads sale prohibition
- SF 627–Relating to the environment; prohibiting the sales of certain personal care products containing synthetic plastic microbeads; providing for civil penalties
- SF 674—Personal care products containing microbeads sale prohibition
- HB 618–An Act to Provide Definitions for Synthetic Microbeads; to Prohibit the Sale and Manufacture of Microbead Products and for Related Purposes.
- H 629–Prohibit MIcrobeads in OTC Drugs & Products
- A 3083–Prohibits manufacture, sale or promotion of personal care products containing microbeads
- S 2178–Prohibits manufacture, sale or promotion of personal care products containing microbeads.
- AB 4924–Prohibits the sale of personal care products or cosmetics containing microbeads.
- AB 5896–AN ACT to amend the environmental conservation law, in relation to prohibiting the distribution and sale of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads
- SB 3932–AN ACT to amend the environmental conservation law, in relation to prohibiting the distribution and sale of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads
- SB 4403–AN ACT to amend the environmental conservation law, in relation to prohibiting the manufacture and sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs
- HB 3478–Phases in prohibition on manufacture and sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs that contain synthetic plastic microbeads. Punishes violation as unlawful trade practice.
- H 5692–Prohibits the manufacture and sale of personal care products, over-the-counter drugs, microbeads and household cleansing products containing synthetic plastic microbeads or phosphorus gradually from July 1, 2016 through December 31, 2019.
- HB 1501–Relating to a study concerning the presence and effects of plastic microbeads in water in the state.
- HB 1697–Synthetic plastic microbeads; prohibition against manufacture or sale of certain products; penalty. Defines the term “synthetic plastic microbead” and prohibits the manufacture of certain personal care products containing microbeads beginning in 2018.
- H 4–An act relating to prohibiting the manufacture or sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads
- H 133–An act relating to supporting the green manufacture in Vermont of microbead alternatives
- S 47–An act relating to prohibiting the manufacture or sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads
- HB 1378–Prohibits producing, manufacturing, or selling personal care products or over-the-counter drugs containing synthetic plastic microbeads.
- SB 5431–Prohibits manufacturing of a personal care product, except for an over-the-counter drug, that contains synthetic plastic microbeads.
- SB 5609–Prohibits producing, manufacturing, or selling personal care products or over-the-counter drugs containing synthetic plastic microbeads.
- AB 15–This bill generally prohibits, with certain exceptions, the manufacture of a personal care product containing microbeads (small, nonbiodegradable plastic particles) beginning December 31, 2017.
- SB 15–This bill generally prohibits, with certain exceptions, the manufacture of a personal care product containing microbeads (small, nonbiodegradable plastic particles) beginning December 31, 2018.
- SB 18–This bill generally prohibits, with certain exceptions, the manufacture of a personal care product containing microbeads (small, nonbiodegradable plastic particles) beginning January 1, 2017
- HB 50–Relating to food and drugs; providing a prohibition on the sale of cosmetics or personal care products containing microbeads; providing definitions; providing a penalty; and providing for an effective date.
Science and Reports
- How Microbeads Harm New York’s Waters, Wildlife, Health and Environment — New York State Attorney General, 2015
Large quantities of plastic microbeads are evading wastewater treatment plants and entering the waterways. This report analyzes data from 600 wastewater treatment plants across New York and discusses dangers posed by microbead pollution. The full report is available here.
This report takes a global look at pollution from microplastics in the cosmetics industry, where a staggering 299 million tonnes of plastic was produced in 2013. Recommendations for policy makers, producers and consumers are included as well. The full report is available here.
This report is the result of a Legislative mandate to compile information on the presence of plastic microbeads in the state’s waters and their potential impacts on aquatic ecosystems and human health. The full report is available here.
Download the NCEL Fact Sheet with key points and links to legislation here.
The UN Environment Program put together a fact sheet with key messages, examples of pollutants and solutions. The fact sheet can be downloaded here.
- Safer States Microbeads Page
Safer States is a network of diverse environmental health coalitions and organizations in states around the country that focus on chemical policy. They have a bill tracker specifically for strong microbead legislation, which is available here.
5 Gyres is a nonprofit working to restore healthy, plastic-free oceans through research and campaigns. More information at www.5gyres.org
The Story of Stuff strives to highlight how things are made with the goal of reducing plastic pollution, specifically microbeads, worldwide. More information at www.storyofstuff.org
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