An encouraging step forward in the fight against marine debris was made by Congress at the end of 2015. President Barack Obama has signed a bill to ban the use of plastic microbeads (found in exfoliators) in rinse-off cosmetics, enacting the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.
While several states had already issued bans on products containing microbeads, this interstate law sends a clear message that more needs to be done to tackle the growing problem of marine litter.
What are microbeads?
Microbeads are tiny plastic particles, usually made from polyethylene (PE), that are less than five millimeters in size, however in reality most microbeads in cosmetics are very much smaller than this, measuring around the thickness of a human hair.
Microbeads are added to some cosmetic products such as scrubs, toothpastes and washes to give an exfoliating action. When these products are rinsed off, the microbeads are washed down the drain and are too small to be filtered out at sewage treatment plants. As a result, millions of tiny plastics are released into the water and can be eaten by fish. We in turn eat the fish and may unwittingly ingest these toxins.
Green People has never used plastic microbeads in any of its products. Instead ingredients such as Apricot Kernel powder, Bamboo powder, Sugar and fruit enzymes are used to give fantastic exfoliating effects for smoother, more radiant skin, naturally.
When will microbeads be banned in America?
The new legislation passed by Congress means that no rinse-off cosmetic product will be manufactured containing microbeads after July 1st 2017, and such products may not be sold through interstate commerce after July 1st 2018.
However, cosmetics that are also classed as a non-prescription drug will have different thresholds for the removal of microbeads. Products such as sun lotions, antiperspirants, fluoride toothpastes and anti-dandruff shampoos can still be made using microbeads until July 1st 2018 and can be sold until July 2019.
The plastic problem
Green People has always championed the use of non-plastic exfoliators and this new bill is a huge victory for environmental groups and charities that have campaigned against microbeads for many years. One such charity is the Marine Conservation Society, which launched the ‘Scrub It Out!’ campaign in 2014 to raise awareness of the dangers of microbeads to marine ecosystems and to give consumers an easy way to choose products that don’t contain damaging plastics.
Eliminating plastic microbeads in US cosmetics is a small step towards a cleaner, greener planet and puts pressure on other countries to follow suit.
Despite this victory, there is undeniably a long way to go in clearing up our oceans. Writing in National Geographic Laura Parker observes: "The numbers are staggering: there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.”
Clearly this is not a problem that can be solved with one new law, however the fact that this new legislation has been passed is a very positive sign that environmental issues are being taken more seriously by the people in power.
Update: January 2018
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