US President Obama signs ban microbeads in beauty products

US President Obama signs ban on microbeads in beauty products

9:40 AM, 4th January 2016
US President Obama signs ban on microbeads in beauty products
Microbeads are minuscule scrubbers found in cleansers, body scrubs, and toothpaste. They are nearly invisible, smaller than a pinhead. These are known to absorb pollutants and are often mistaken as food by fish and wildlife. © CNN News

WASHINGTON DC, US: President Barack Obama signs into law, a bill phasing out the manufacture of facewash, toothpaste and shampoo containing plastic microbeads by July 2017 and the sale of these products by July 2018.

The Microbead-Free Waters Act (HR 1321), introduced in the House by Congressmen Frank Pallone (a New Jersey Democrat), Fred Upton (a Michigan Republican), Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (a New York Democrat) and Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican in the Senate, was unanimously approved by both chambers earlier this month.

“These microbeads are tiny plastic, but make for big-time pollution,” said Upton, who chairs the house energy and commerce committee. “As someone who grew up on Lake Michigan and represents a large chunk of Michigan coastline, I understand firsthand how important it is to maintain the beauty and integrity of our Great Lakes.”

Microbeads are minuscule scrubbers found in cleansers, body scrubs, and toothpaste. On their own, they are nearly invisible, smaller than a pinhead. But once they go down the drain, problems begin.

Plastic microbeads, designed to be washed down the drain and too small to be reliably captured by wastewater treatment facilities, pollute lakes, rivers and oceans. One tube of exfoliating facewash can contain more than 350,000 microbeads. Some 2.9 trillion microbeads are estimated to enter US waterways annually.

The types of plastic most commonly used as microbeads are: polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, nylon polyethylene terephthalate and polypropylene.

Microbeads are known to absorb pollutants and are often mistaken as food by fish and wildlife.

Once in the environment, plastic microbeads concentrate toxins such as pesticides and flame retardants on their surfaces. These toxic substances may then transfer to the tissue of fish that mistake microbeads for food. A recent study found that one-quarter of fish purchased at California markets had ingested plastic.

“The President’s signature on this legislation is a major victory for US waterways and the environment,” said Congressman Pallone. “Without the ban, an estimated eight trillion plastic microbeads pollute US waterways each day, threatening the environment and ultimately our health.”

Lakes Erie and Ontario have the highest concentrations of microbeads of any US waters. A report by scientists from the State University of New York found Lake Erie averaged 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.

“Plastic microbeads are devastating to wildlife and human health, and I’m pleased our bill will now be law so we can phase them out in a way that’s fair to Ohio companies and keeps them on a level playing field with their competitors,” said Senator Portman. “Lake Erie is not only a precious natural resource, but also essential for Ohio jobs and tourism and our bill takes appropriate steps to protect this important asset for Ohio.”

Following California’s landmark microbead ban enacted earlier this year, the Microbead-Free Waters Act bans all plastic microbeads from beauty products, including those made from so-called “biodegradable plastics,” as most of them do not biodegrade in marine environments.

“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 non-profit center for biological diversity. “This will eliminate a pointless and harmful source of plastic pollution before it ever has a chance to reach the oceans.”

This legislation is supported by the personal care products council, the alliance for Great Lakes, the American Chemistry Council, Revlon, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, the Plastics Industry trade association and the consumer healthcare products association.

“This legislation now puts into law CHPA members’ longstanding commitment to discontinue formulating cosmetic OTC [over the counter] products with plastic synthetic microbeads. OTC manufacturers have already begun the process of reformulating cosmetic OTCs, such as acne face washes and toothpastes, to remove plastic microbeads,” said Scott Melville, president and CEO, consumer healthcare products association.

Melville said the timeline in the legislation ensures that manufacturers have enough time to remove microbeads from these products or identify and phase in alternative options.

WR Grace & Co already is offering an alternative made with odourless, tasteless, and chemically inert synthetic micronized silica. “Grace exfoliating silica gels do not bioaccumulate, are not biopersistent, and can be engineered to provide exceptional exfoliating properties,” the company said in a statement.

Until the ban takes effect, avoiding products with microbeads is not difficult. Check ingredient labels for polyethylene and polypropylene.

An app has been released which allows shoppers to scan a bar code with a smart phone camera to determine if a product has microbeads.

Some products that contain plastic microbeads:

• Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Daily Scrub (Aveeno is a Johnson & Johnson brand).

• Clean & Clear advantage 3-in 1 exfoliating cleanser, morning burst facial scrub, blackhead eraser scrub.

• CVS Pharmacy Oil-free acne scrub

• Kiehl’s facial fuel-energizing scrub, clearly corrective – skin brightening exfoliator

• Olay treatment, moisturizer, a Procter & Gamble product

Toothpaste (Crest is a Procter & Gamble brand):

• Crest Pro Health

• Crest Pro Health for Me

• Crest Sensitivity

• Crest Complete Multi Benefit

• Crest 3D White

• Crest 3D White Luxe

© Environment News Service

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