Congress passes federal ban on microbeads

Addressing the growing problem of microplastic pollution

microbead pollution

Emily Jackson, Communications Intern

Late last year the Microbead Free Waters Act of 2015 flowed through Congress with the ease of, well, microbeads through our wastewater treatment plants.

The bill places a federal ban on the production of microbead-infused beauty products starting in July 2017. The ban will put an end to the estimated 11 billion microbeads that are released into rivers and streams across the country every day.

Microbeads are a type of microplastic pollution. They are tiny, plastic balls used to exfoliate skin or enhance the appearance of personal care products like face washes, hand soaps, lotions, sanitizers, and toothpastes. The beads are so small they are not caught by wastewater treatments plants and instead flow freely into our rivers and streams as tiny bits of plastic pollution. 

They absorb chemicals present in the water, which can make them one million times more toxic than the water around them. The beads are especially problematic for fish and other aquatic life because they are mistaken for food. And, worst of all, they're everywhere.

Last fall, Julie Lawson of Trash Free Maryland set out to find out just how prevalent plastic pollution is in our local waters. She surveyed different rivers around the Chesapeake Bay including the Potomac. 

Her complete findings are set to be published sometime this year. In the first 39 of 75 samples of the study, Lawson found significant amounts of plastic in every single sample.

"If you don't know what you're looking for, you don't see it. But once you know what you're looking for, it's everywhere," Lawson told the Baltimore Sun.

Though the ban on microbeads in personal care products is great news for clean water, microplastic pollution isn't caused by microbeads alone. Plastic litter that ends up in our waters breaks apart over time into smaller and smaller pieces without fully dissolving. Plastics take decades or even hundreds of years to decompose.

One more reason to avoid plastics and buy reusable products!


Want to avoid microbeads?

Allure has compiled a list of products with alternative exfoliates


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