Personal care products that contain tiny plastic pellets are increasingly in the crosshairs of state lawmakers amid concerns over their environmental impact.
The wide range of soaps and skin care products containing the pellets, called microbeads, sparked fears among researchers and environmental advocates about their effect on the water supply.
Researchers in the Great Lakes found thousands of microbeads per square kilometer in Lake Michigan, with far higher concentrations downstream in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. In addition to pollution concerns, scientists said the microbeads' resemblance to fish eggs could lead other animals to eat them, thus introducing them to the food supply.
Illinois, on the shores of Lake Michigan, became the first state to enact a microbead ban last year, restricting the manufacturing of personal care products with microbeads by the end of 2017 with a ban on the sale of pharmaceuticals in effect by the end of 2019.
Lawmakers in a wide range of additional states from coast to coast also introduced—or are currently considering—similar measures, including California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin.
Although environmental groups expected a fight on the Illinois legislation from the consumer products industry, the American Chemistry Council instead lauded the legislation and touted its members’ efforts to "prevent plastics from becoming marine debris."
Companies such as Colgate-Palmolive, L'Oreal, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, in addition, plan to phase out products that contain microbeads.
On the federal level, meanwhile, a nationwide ban looks increasingly promising. Reps. Fred Upton and Frank Pallone, the top Republican and Democrat, respectively, on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced legislation that would ban the sale of products with microbeads as of mid-2018.
"I will not stand for any actions that put our beloved Great Lakes in jeopardy,” said Upton, whose district borders Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to reduce this harmful pollutant from entering our waterways, our fish, and ultimately us.”