This story is adapted from the trade publication Plastics News that reported three days ago that New York State is looking to become the first in the nation to outlaw microbeads, those tiny polyethylene or polypropylene pieces that may cause big pollution problems in rivers and lakes and oceans.
The aptly named proposed Microbead-Free Waters Act is aimed at the round little beads in a variety of beauty and cosmetic products.
A problem is that those beads that supposedly make us clean, end up going down the drain and into the lake. And, from there, it's only a matter of time before they become pollution as they are too small to be captured at water treatment plants. The beads also adsorb toxic organic molecules on their surface once they're in the lake. Not a good thing if they are ingested by plankton or larval fish. No one knows how much toxic material is entering the food chain and what ultimately it might be doing to the top level human consumers. But why let microbeads contribute any longer to it?
Some consumer products companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, already have agreed to remove the beads from their offerings thanks to a push by environmental group 5 Gyres Institute that has provided funding for some of Sherri Mason's work.
But 5 Gyres, figured legislation would bring about change more rapidly than endless consumer boycotts of individual firms and products that contain these microbeads.
New York State was first to propose the legislation, but several more states are in line to introduce similar legislation this year and next. A proposal could come as early as Thursday in California, according to Plastics News.
The proposed law, unveiled by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and state Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, wants to "prohibit the production, manufacture, distribution and sale in New York of any beauty product, cosmetic or other personal care product containing plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size," the attorney general's office said. Microbeads are much smaller than 5 mm and are in some facial scrubs, soaps, shampoo and toothpaste, the attorney general said. They can be replaced by natural bidegradable abrasive materials such as ground walnut shells and sea salt.
"When people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads," said Sweeney, chairman of the State Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, in a statement. "I never met anyone who has wanted plastic on their face or in their fish," he said.
A couple of Dutch non-government organizations are fighting against the tiny plastic pieces through their Beat the Microbead campaign. They launched a smart phone app in 2012 to help consumers identify products using the material. The United Nations Environment Program joined in last year to expand the app for international use beyond the Netherlands. Dr Mason and her team found 600,000 microbeads per square kilometer in two different Lake Erie water samples.
A typical tube of facial cleanser can contain 350,000 microbeads. We're releasing a massive amount of plastic surface area for toxins adsorbtion into the environment. Trillions and trillions of these beads. Hopefully it will stop soon.