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California Says “No” to Plastic Microbeads

A federal ban is the obvious next step in dealing with this serious health concern.

There will be no more exfoliating with plastic microbeads in California.

That’s what Governor Jerry Brown decided last week when he approved a measure that will prohibit plastic microbeads in personal care products.

The ban won’t go into effect until January 1, 2020, but the elimination of plastic beads from soaps, facial and body scrubs, shampoo and toothpaste is huge, as they are one of the most dangerous sources of plastic pollution.

“We were basically saying: no plastic in these products that are washed down the drain,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. “That was always the objective and that’s exactly what the governor signed today.”

To no one’s surprise, businesses such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble opposed the measure, and managed to get it amended: references to natural exfoliants were deleted; also removed was a requirement that the state Department of Toxic Substances Control must evaluate alternatives to plastic microbeads.

800 Trillion Microbeads Every Day

These tiny plastic beads (listed as polyethylene and polypropylene in the ingredients) are widely used, and it’s estimated that over 800 trillion microbeads enter US wastewater daily.

Cosmetics companies have flooded hundreds of products, mostly facial scrubs, but also shampoo, toothpaste, and lip gloss with microbeads: tiny balls of plastic used to exfoliate our skin. You know, those plastic sand-sized microbeads added in order to give your favorite scrub a good gritty texture. One tube of facial scrub contains more than 300,000 plastic microbeads.

When you wash off those tiny pieces of plastic, they do not biodegrade; instead, they go down the drain and pass unfiltered through water treatment plants because these treatment centers were never designed to handle this new source of pollution. From there a lot of the microplastics end up in our rivers and lakes or enter the ocean, where they soak up environmental pollutants like DDT before unsuspecting fish gobble them up, to be eaten by other fish or by us humans.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica, introduced the measure, AB 888, calling it the most comprehensive ban in the nation.

“While other states have passed regulations on the use of microbeads, this legislation was carefully crafted to avoid any loopholes that would allow for use of potentially harmful substitutes,” Bloom said in a statement. “AB 888 ensures that personal care products will be formulated with environmentally safe alternatives.”

Nine States Banning Microbeads

As Care2′s Mindy Townsend reported here, the microbeads have been found in enormous amounts in lakes Erie, Huron and Superior and are ending up in fish living in the Great Lakes. So now the Michigan House of Representatives is looking at imposing a ban.

California joins the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana in passing a ban phasing out the production and sale of products with microbeads. In addition, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland and New Jersey have also approved phasing out these products.

Take Action Now

A federal ban is the obvious next step in dealing with this serious health concern.

If you agree, please add your name to our petition, insisting that the FDA step in and ban microbeads in all products made in and imported to the United States.

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