Plastic Microbeads Banned Under New Law
These small particles can harm the environment in a big way
There’s a change coming to some of your favorite personal hygiene products, one that could have a huge environmental impact. Tiny plastic microbeads, often added to beauty products such as bath gels, facial scrubs and toothpastes as an abrasive, have been banned under a new law.
The problem with these beads, which are less than five millimeters wide, is that they slip through wastewater treatment systems and into waterways. There, they attract harmful chemicals, such as PCBs, which stick to them and become concentrated, according to the New York Times.
Small fish may mistake the beads for food, which means when we eat seafood we may be eating plastic. A recent study from the University of California, Davis, found one quarter of fish purchased at California markets had ingested plastic.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 mandates that companies stop using the beads starting July 2017. Illinois became the first state to ban microbeads in 2014, followed by Maine, New Jersey, Colorado, Maryland, Indiana and California. Many other states were considering a ban. The New York Times reports:
“The cosmetics industry has been under fire from environmental activists for years over the use of the beads, and all of the major companies had already announced initiatives to phase them out, noted Sean Moore, an official of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association in Washington.”
“Our oceans are inundated with microplastics that threaten sea birds, turtles and other marine wildlife. Now we can stop adding to the trillions of pieces already out there,” said Blake Kopcho, oceans campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “This will eliminate a pointless and harmful source of plastic pollution before it ever has a chance to reach the oceans.”
The Great Lakes have been most affected by microbeads. Lakes Erie and Ontario have the highest concentrations of microbeads of any U.S. waters, according to the Environmental News Service. Scientists from the State University of New York found Lake Erie had about 46,000 particles of plastic per square kilometer, compared to about 6,000 to 8,000 particles over the same area in lakes Superior and Huron and about 17,000 particles in Lake Michigan.
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