Written by Erica Cirino
Good news for those concerned with the Earth’s major plastic pollution problem: last year was not a good one for microplastics, particularly the tiny polyethylene exfoliating beads found in many popular face/body washes, soaps, scrubs and toothpastes.
In 2014, a significant number of personal care product manufacturers managed to successfully eliminate the use of microbeads in their products, while others have pledged to remove such microbeads, which scientists say are known to damage human and environmental health.
The tiny plastic beads, which are found in many personal care products, are too small to be filtered out during the treatment of wastewater. Thus, they are discharged with treated water into aquatic ecosystems. There, because the plastic beads are so small and because they do not easily biodegrade, they tend to be eaten by fish and other animals living in or near waterways.
UK researchers determined in a 2008 study that such tiny plastic particles can remain inside mussels for over 48 days. Besides hurting aquatic organisms, scientists say that such environmental persistence poses a major threat to humans, who may inadvertently consume animals whose bodies contain microplastics.
Several United States lawmakers say that the threat posed by microplastics is so immense that it is necessary to implement legal bans on microplastics. Notably, in June 2014, Illinois passed legislation making it the first U.S. state to ban microbeads, requiring all personal care products microbead-free by the end of 2017.
Below is a recap of last year’s major moves to eliminate microplastics from personal care products:
- Proctor and Gamble (worldwide) has declared in a statement that it has begun replacing microbeads in its Crest toothpastes with substitute ingredient(s). The company has stated: “Today, some of P&G’s most popular products do not contain microbeads including Crest Whitening + Scope, Crest Baking Soda Peroxide, Crest Extra Whitening, Crest Cavity, and Crest Tartar + Whitening. In those that do, P&G has begun removing them. In fact, the majority of Crest’s product volume will be microbead-free by March 2015. Crest will complete removal process by March of 2016.”
- Johnson and Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. (worldwide) has announced in a statement on its website that the company is “phasing out and will eliminate the use of polyethylene microbeads” in all of their personal care products by the end of 2017. The company has stated that they are now testing both the environmental and human safety of alternatives to microbeads in its personal care products, and have thus far eliminated microbeads in about half of such products.
- L’Oréal (worldwide) announced in a statement on its website that it is “strongly committed to improve its environmental impact and has decided to no longer use microbes of polyethylene in its scrubs by 2017.” The company has stated that it is looking for natural alternatives, like mineral particles and fruit seeds, which can provide the same cleansing efficacy as plastic microbeads.
- Natura Cosméticos (South America) announced in a statement on its website that it will replace the plastic microbeads in their face/body scrubs with natural ingredients like rice and bamboo by 2016.
- Target Corporation (USA and Canada) has reportedly announced in an April 2014 email to UpGyres that it is now working with its vendors to remove microbeads from Target’s own personal care product line. The company has stated that its “goal is to remove microbeads from all our owned brand products by the end of 2015.”
- California tried to pass legislation, bill AB1699, in August 2014, which fell just one vote short of the 21 vote majority needed to make it law. However, the bill’s sponsors have reportedly been granted reconsideration. California is also urging the development of biodegradable, natural microbeads in personal care products.
- Illinois became the first state to pass legislation banning the sale of health and beauty products plastic microbeads. Bill SB2727 was signed into law in June 2014 by Gov. Pat Quinn, and requires manufacturers to completely eliminate microplastics from their personal care products by the end of 2017. The law also bans the sale of any personal care products with microplastics and the manufacture of over-the-counter drugs containing microplastics by the end of 2018. The law bans the sale of over-the-counter drugs containing microplastics by the end of 2019.
- Ohio Sen. Mike Skindell introduced bill 304 in March 2014. This legislation would ban the production/sale of personal care products containing microplastics, subjecting manufacturers who violate the ban to a $1,000/day misdemeanor fine.
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey vetoed New Jersey Sen. Kip Bateman’s bill A3038 in December 2014, legislation that would have banned microplastics in personal care products statewide. The New Jersey Legislature must decide whether to override Christie’s veto, side with Christie and make changes to the bill, or let the bill die.
- New York Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel introduced bill A8652 in January 2014, which would prohibit the sale of health and beauty products containing plastic microbeads, which is now waiting for further action.
- Nationwide, a universal ban of microplastics in personal care products is now being debated. In June 2014, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. introduced legislation, bill HR4895: the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014, which would prohibit the sale/distribution of personal care products containing microplastics. If approved, the law will go into effect nationwide on January 1, 2018.