Preserving the Environment

How States Are Hunting Down This Cosmetic Culprit of Pollution

February 19, 2014
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How States Are Hunting Down This Cosmetic Culprit of Pollution
Brenda Bannon/Redux
Lawmakers in New York and California trying to get rid of tiny plastic beads that cause big environmental problems.

Two of the country’s most populous states are trying to ban a very common component in face wash: microbeads. Following in the footsteps of New York, lawmakers in California recently proposed to stop the sale of cosmetics containing these tiny plastic particles.

Microbeads don’t look too intimidating, but they pack quite the environmental wallop. Because they’re so small, they can’t be removed by water treatment processes after getting washed down our sinks. As One Earth reports, these teeny environmental menaces have been showing up in our Great Lakes, with as many as 450,000 bits per square kilometer. Mistaking them for fish eggs,  unsuspecting wildlife are eating these little balls, possibly bringing them into our own food chain.

As Grist reports, last month New York Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel introduced a bill that would ban sales of products containing microbeads. The initiative was taken a step further when Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the nonprofit 5 Gyres introduced legislation that would not only ban the sale, but would try to stop the its manufacture and distribution.

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New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn said the bill would “set an example for other states around the country to address this emerging environmental threat.” Indeed, California Assemblyman Richard Bloom recently took on the cause and introduced a bill that would ban the sale of most products with microbeads.

Fortunately, cosmetic companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Unilever, and Colgate-Palmolive have already taken the initiative to phase out using microbeads in their products without legal prodding. So until your state follows the lead of New York and California, when you look for facial scrubs, avoid products that contain polyethylene or polypropylene. You can also opt for washes with oatmeal or apricot/walnut shells that work just as well. You don’t want to pollute the waterways just to clean your face.

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