House Approves Ban on Microbeads in Personal Care Products

House Approves Ban on Microbeads in Personal Care Products
Image: Pixabay
December 9, 2015

Those microbeads in your favorite face wash might be on their way out.

The US House this week passed a bill that would prohibit the use of the plastic beads that have been linked to water pollution.

Made from polyethylene or polypropylene, the tiny beads are added as an exfoliant in many personal care products including face wash and toothpaste. The plastic beads may help remove dead skin from our face or grime from our teeth, but the life of those beads don't end when they get washed down the drain.

The beads are small enough to pass through water treatment plants and end up in the water supply. A study lead by Sherri Mason at the State University of New York, Fredonia found, on average, 17,000 bits of tiny plastic items per square kilometer in Lake Michigan. Of all the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario had the highest levels at 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer.

The beads are like sponges and soak up any toxins in the water, which may sound like a positive thing until a fish comes by mistaking the bead for food. This is how the beads eventually end up in the food chain. The beads have been found in larger fish like tuna and swordfish.

Several states, including California and Illinois, have already banned the beads in many consumer goods. California's ban also prohibits biodegradable plastics since there's little evidence that these plastics actually break down in the ocean. The federal law only includes synthetic plastics and would supersede California's law.

The industry has also started phasing out the plastic microbeads in favor of using more environmentally friendly products, like sand, ground walnut shells and fruit pits, and seeds.