An Early Christmas Present: Congress Passes a Ban on Microbeads!

Mounting evidence shows us that the plastic microbeads used in cosmetics like body scrubs and soap are damaging to the environment and wildlife. Knowing about these threats, more than 100,000 Care2 members called on the federal government to ban microbeads.

Now, thanks to those who have helped spread the word about the dangers, Congress has approved legislation that will ban the beads.

In a vote late Friday Congress passed H.R.1321 or the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. This vote, which was unanimous and showed rare bipartisan action, sends the legislation to President Obama’s desk after the House passed the bill earlier this month.

The new law will require cosmetics manufacturers to begin phasing out the beads starting in July 2017, meaning that things like toothpastes and exfoliating creams will have to contain non-plastic bead ingredients. The beads will also be phased out of commercial drug products from 2018.

This builds on state level bans that have already been passed in a number of states including California. The ban also applies to so-called “biodegradable plastics” that the cosmetics industry had touted as better for the environment. However, as Care2 previously reported, a majority of these plastics don’t actually degrade in a marine environment.

When microbeads reach marine environments they are often ingested by marine species. These plastics have been shown to reduce the appetite of marine life and animals that ingest the beads are less likely to breed successfully. In addition, evidence suggests that microbeads are also capable of absorbing chemicals including pesticides and flame retardants.  This can slowly build up and lead to the animals no longer thriving, but can also affect other areas of the food chain. For example, birds that eat fish which have fed on the microbeads also tend to do less well. There’s also some evidence that this increases the levels of harmful chemicals in the fish humans eat, too.

Water samples show that microbeads, which can’t be filtered effectively by water treatment plants, are prevalent in many fresh water lakes. A recent report by the New York State Attorney General’s Office showed that, out of the 34 wastewater treatment plants studied, 25 were discharging water with microbeads, while water samples show that microbeads may be present in the majority of the Great Lakes.

The legislation was originally offered by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) in March. Following the Senate’s vote in favor of the bill Mallone issued a statement saying:

“At a time when gaining widespread bipartisan consensus is anything but easy, I am especially glad my bill to protect U.S. waterways is going to the President’s desk. It is a commonsense solution to this little-known but serious problem of plastic microbeads seeping into waterways and threatening the environment and ultimately our health. The ban will spur an important transition from plastic microbeads to non-synthetic alternatives in personal care products.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand backed the bill in the Senate and is quoted as saying

“These plastic particles attract pollutants like PCBs already in the environment and concentrate them to very dangerous levels. Fish and birds eat them and they ingest all of the pollutants stuck onto the microbead. This disrupts the food chain.  It contaminates huge portions of the wildlife population. The evidence is clear. If left unstopped microbeads have the potential to cause significant ecological damage across our state.”

The Microbead-Free Waters Act has also been praised by environmentalists who note that that the ban could help to cut the amount of plastics in the environment by a considerable amount. It’s estimated the Act may prevent up to 1.4 trillion plastic microbeads entering U.S. waters every year. It’s also worth noting that as plastics are, in general, made from petroleum, this ban lines up with the United States’ commitments to lowering its fossil fuel use and reduction in non-essential plastics.

Campaigners say it is vital that this Act is maintained and that it is not watered down in the coming years, but the bipartisan support for this bill suggests that, in the near term at least, this is a solid commitment.

The U.S. bill has now renewed calls for similar bans in other countries, including in Australia.

Thanks to everyone who signed the petition, and helped spread awareness about the dangers of microbeads. If you see an opportunity to make a difference in your community, consider starting a Care2 petition.


Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Karina O.
Karina O1 years ago

One less worry on my mind... ;)

Sierra B.
Sierra B1 years ago

They should have all of it out by 2016, not 2017!

Mark Donners
Mark Donner1 years ago

Of course Asia tops them all and is the absolute worst group of greedy criminals in history. Their pollution and their environmental and wildlife destruction is affecting the entire world.

Mark Donners
Mark Donner1 years ago

Australia is not innocent like Canada it has always been a government of hypocritical greedy corporate criminals. Coal, microbeads, everything they can get away with to profit from environmental destruction.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Peter K.
P K1 years ago

Would be nice to see a World wide ban.

Talaith Gwyrdd

Microbeads should be banned worldwide and right now not a year or two ahead. I have seen the terrible damage it does to marine life. With so many natural products available for exfoliating like ground nut shells, why on Earth were they ever used in the first place?

Melanie Simon
Melanie Simon2 years ago

Good step, pity they didn't ban them from the outset.

Amanda Brown
Amanda Brown2 years ago

I'm proud to have helped to do my part in making this a success and we do need a world wide ban on micro beads

Effra W.
Effra W2 years ago

Great. We need a world wide ban right now.