President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Actbill into law at the end of last year, marking the first nationwide law to ban a plastic product in order to protect our ocean and waterways! The Microbead-Free Waters Act will ban the manufacture of microbeads starting in July 2017, followed by a ban on manufacturing over-the-counter drugs and on sales of cosmetics (including toothpastes) with microbeads to start in July 2018. A ban on sales of over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads will begin July 2019.
The bill was championed by New Jersey Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone and Michigan Republican congressman Fred Upton to phase out the production and sale of tiny bits of plastic called microbeads. The bipartisan piece of legislation unexpectedly moved quickly through the House of Representatives and the Senate and went on to the President’s desk on December 18th. Some reports link the quick movement through Congress to the patchwork of state and local laws that were passed in the previous year to regulate plastic microbead pollution, including the California legislation and Connecticut legislation that Surfrider Foundation helped support at the state level. Reportedly, the personal care products industry preferred nationwide legislation to the patchwork of state and local laws. While the federal law does preempt state and local law, it does not include a loophole for so-called “biodegradable” microbeads and goes into effect quicker than most of the other legislation.
Microbeads. Super tiny, but insidiously dangerous, these long-last micro-plastic particles wash down our drains, and because they are too tiny to be filtered by municipal sewer systems, they travel directly into the ocean. That is when the real damage begins. Often mistaken as fish eggs, marine life “eat” the microbeads, which are known to absorb toxins. But things don’t stop there. The toxin-filled microbeads travel up the food chain to us, as we’re likely to then eat seafood that ingested these microscopic bits of plastic.
Here are some facts to consider:
1. Researchers at State University New York, Fredonia calculated an average of 17,000 microbeads per square kilometer in Lake Michigan
2. A report published by the College of Science at Oregon State University found that eight billion microbeads are sent into aquatic environments each day in the U.S. This number translates to approximately 2.9 trillion beads per year, which according to an article written by Oregon State University is “enough to wrap the earth more than seven times if lined up end to end.”
3. Science Alert equates the eight billion microbeads sent into our waters each day as “enough to cover more than 300 tennis courts.”
4. Litter including plastics and microbeads, are already costing each one of us. The natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 95 communities in California have already spent $428 million per year to prevent litter from becoming pollution. Imagine what the total cost would be for all of California, or the rest of the United States! By avoiding waste in the first place, this money could be put toward other issues. We just need to make better choices when it comes it avoiding single-use plastics and microplastics in the first place.
For these reasons, there is no need to wait for laws to pass and be enacted. Each of can stop microbeads from entering our waters today. It’s simple. Do not buy products – ranging from toothpaste to body scrubs to face wash – that contain them. It’s time to start checking your labels. If you see the words “polyethylene” or “polypropylene”, which represent microbead materials, choose another item.
While each of us take personal action to become more thoughtful consumers and shoppers, the Surfrider Foundation will continue to advocate for microbead regulation while we wait for President Obama to sign this bill into law. It’s all hands on deck to rid the world of this seamless and avoidable form of pollution.