President Approves Legislation Banning Microbeads

Washington, D.C.—The Microbead-Free Waters Act (H.R. 1321), was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 28, 2015.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) in March of 2015, will amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act “to prohibit the manufacture and introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads.”

The House approved the legislation on Dec. 8, and then the Senate passed it without amendment by unanimous consent on Dec. 18.

Microbeads are small beads of plastic used in cosmetic products such as soap and facial scrubs for the purpose of exfoliation. Because of their size, typically smaller than pinheads, microbeads are able to slip through most water treatment systems, thus flowing into rivers, lakes, streams and even oceans where they are often mistaken for food by fish. Other than creating pollution, the fear is that the microbeads, which soak up toxins like a sponge, will spread those toxins through the food chain, perhaps even to humans who are eating the fish which ingest the microbeads.

The law begins phasing out the production of microbeads beginning on July 1, 2017. The problem of microbead pollution is particularly bad in the Great Lakes. Illinois, part of Lake Michigan’s coast, was the first state to ban the sale of such products in 2014. According to research performed by the State University of New York, concentration of microbeads in Lake Michigan average 17,000 plastic particles per square kilometer. Concentrations are lower in Lake Superior and Huron but much higher in Lake Erie and Ontario.  Lake Ontario averages 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine February 2016 (Online 12/1715; updated 1/7/16)