Illinois Becomes First State To Ban Microbeads

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill Sunday that made his state the first to ban the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing mircobeads, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Synthetic plastic microbeads are commonly added to soaps and cosmetics by manufacturers who claim that they help to exfoliate the skin. Environmental groups, however, have raised concerns that microbeads could pollute waterways. The non-biodegradable plastic particles can slip through sewage filters and build up in waterways, where they can be harmful to wildlife and absorb toxins.

The Illinois law bans the manufacture of personal care products containing microbeads after the end of 2017. It also bans the manufacture of over the counter drugs containing microbeads and the sale of personal care products in 2018, before finally phasing microbeads out altogether in 2019, when the sale of over the counter drugs containing them will be banned.

“Banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow,” Quinn said in a statement. “Lake Michigan and the many rivers and lakes across our state are among our most important natural resources. We must do everything necessary to safeguard them.”

Legislators in at least four other states, like New York and California, are also considering bills to ban microbeads. The New York bill in particular has an earlier deadline, banning the products by 2016. Some environmentalists have questioned the length of the Illinois law’s rollout, NBC Chicago reports.

State Senator Heather Stearns, who co-sponsored the bill, said she is “optimistic that we’ve started a nationwide movement to protect not just the Great Lakes, but other bodies of water with high concentrations of microbeads.”

The Inquisitr previously reported that tests of the Great Lakes revealed the presence of millions of microbeads, leading one scientist to describe the bodies of water as being “awash in plastic.” Two separate samples of water from Lake Erie revealed the presence of 600,000 microbeads per square kilometer, with the most prevalent type being under a millimeter in size and appearing as perfectly formed spheres when examined with an electron microscope. Researchers said that once they realized that the beads were present, they also understood “trillions” of them were finding their way into the water supply.

While the cosmetic industry has generally opposed such bans, manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson and L’Oreal already provide information on their websites about their plans to phase out microbeads in favor of more natural, biodegradable alternatives. Proponents of the microbead ban hope that it will provide incentive for those companies to continue removing them from their products.

[Images via Virginia Institute of Marine Science and The Guardian]