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Facial CleansersOn January 18, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) introduced legislation to ban microbeads from personal care products.

If enacted, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014 would prohibit the sale and distribution of all health and beauty products that contain plastic microbeads.

This is the latest and biggest legislation to stop the production of microbeads in the United States. Commonly used in cosmetics as exfoliants, this grain-sized microplastic easily slips through the filters of water treatment plants and finds its way to rivers and larger bodies of water. Recently scientists even discovered microplastics trapped in Arctic ice.

Plastic is not biodegradable, instead shearing away into smaller and smaller pieces. Marine animals often confuse these pieces for plankton and consume them, absorbing the toxins that can adhere to the plastic, potentially passing on the toxins to humans.

The first major study on microbead saturation in American waters was done by a team led by Dr. Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute. The study, “Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes,” discovered massive concentrations of plastic particles in the lakes – with up to 1.1 million particles per square kilometer in Lake Ontario alone.

5 Gyres co-authored model legislation to ban the sale and distribution of microbeads, which the state of Illinois used to pass its historic microbead ban earlier this month. A ban is also working its way through the California state legislature, as well as in New York, Minnesota and Ohio.

The new bill sponsored by Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. would outlaw microbeads on the federal level. “We have a responsibility to put a stop to this unnecessary plastic pollution, “says Pallone. “By phasing out the use of plastic microbeads and transitioning to non-synthetic alternatives, we can protect U.S. waters before it’s too late.”

5 Gyres’ Co-founder and Executive Director, Anna Cummins, released this statement on the organization’s website:

“I’m thrilled to see the microbeads-free waters bill introduced at the national level, and applaud Congressman Pallone, Jr. for taking leadership on this important issue. This is a huge victory for 5 Gyres, and for the clean-water community. Until we see the actual bill, we are cautiously optimistic – our coalition partners will unanimously oppose any bill that allows for bioplastics or degradable plastics being used as an alternative. No form of plastics belongs in products that wash into our precious waterways. However, we are confident that industry partners, NGOs and citizens will come together to pass a critical bill of this nature.”

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One Response

  1. JJ says:

    Yes congratulations to all who support this initiative!

    I do wonder though why the focus is heavily on microbeads. What about other forms of microplastics in consumer goods and cosmetics? I am studying physical chemistry and listened to a recent talk on the development of microencapsulation sytems. Although there is a big push to develop biodegrable encapsulation systems it seems that many of the polymeric capsules currently on the market are non-biodegradable "plastics" such as melamine-formaldehyde. I would expect such technologies also to be adding to the microplastic pollution these microbead bills are introduced to address.

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