Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Legislators Push Anti-Microbead Bill Forward

(CN) - Lawmakers say that microbeads, the miniscule plastic spheres cosmetic companies put in their products for smoother skin, have become a menace to the Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater system.

Last week, members of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce unanimously voted to advance the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, or H.R. 1321, a bill that would ban manufacturers from putting the tiny abrasives into their health and beauty products.

Although they were patented in the 1970s, the use of microbeads in facial scrubs, body washes, toothpaste, soaps and over-the-counter drugs did not became widespread until the 1990s.

Today, more than 100 products contain microbeads, and some of these products contain as many as 350,000 microbeads per container, according to a written testimony from Molly Flanagan of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Because these tiny plastic particles do not dissolve, they flow down sink and bathtub drains - bypassing sewage treatment plants because of their small size and buoyancy - and flow into rivers and lakes.

Microbeads are similar in size to fish eggs, so fish and other aquatic organisms mistake them for food. Microbeads also soak up toxins, making the effects of consumption detrimental to the animals that eat them.

Committee chair and bill co-sponsor Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement that microbeads "are big time pollution, especially for our Great Lakes."

The congressman said he was encouraged by last week's vote to push the Microbead-Free Waters Act forward.

"Today's unanimous approval of this critical bipartisan bill will protect Lake Michigan and all of our waters from these pesky pieces of plastic," Upton said. "Microbeads are causing mega-problems, and we're going to fix it."

If passed, H.R. 1321 will ban the use of microbeads in rinse-off cosmetic products. The ban on the manufacture of microbeads would begin July 1, 2017, followed by a ban on the sale of cosmetics containing microbeads beginning July 1, 2018.

The final phase, the ban on sales of over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads, would begin July 1, 2019, if the bill gets final approval.

Flanagan asserted in her testimony before the Energy and Commerce Committee's health subcommittee that a microbead ban is the most efficient way to deal with the pollution they cause.

"At a time of limited funding for wastewater treatment plants and other water infrastructure, the potential cost and time necessary to upgrade wastewater treatment plants with yet-to-be-developed technologies that could filter these plastic microbeads far outweighs the cost of preventing their introduction in the system by banning their use in cosmetic and personal care products," Flanagan wrote.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., co-sponsored the bill.

Several states, including Illinois, New Jersey and Maine, have banned plastic microbeads in cosmetic and personal care products, according to Flanagan. She also said that Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and other states are currently working to get bans in place.

In addition, industry giants Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, The Body Shop and L'Oreal have all made recent commitments to phase out the use of microbeads in their health and beauty products, but the timeframes for doing so vary.

A pair of environmental studies released in September found that the San Francisco Bay was being contaminated by plastic microbeads and clothing fibers. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last month limiting the amount of plastic in cosmetics.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.