As those tiny plastic pellets known as microbeads make their way down our drains and into our oceans and lakes, a growing number of states — eight at press time — are taking steps to ban their use, while the federal government is also exploring the issue. The proposed Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (H.R.1321) is currently being weighed by a Congressional committee.
Plastic microbeads may be added to personal care products, such as soap, shampoo, and toothpaste, for their exfoliating properties. According to environmental groups like beatthemicrobead.org, these non-biodegradable particles are not filtered out by our wastewater treatment plants and ultimately end up in the world’s oceans where they are eaten or absorbed by marine life and from there may be passed up the food chain.
Regardless of the progress of state and federal legislation, microbeads are likely to soon be a thing of the past due to self-policing in the personal care industry. The Personal Care Products Council, an industry group, says that its members have committed to discontinue formulating products with plastic microbeads while they search for other viable alternatives. The group cautions, however, that it will likely take years to develop an alternative ingredient that meets safety and product needs and doesn’t cause unintended consequences.