Gabriel Environment Blog

Illinois Seeking to Ban Microbeads

May 8th, 2014

Illinois may become the first state to ban microbeads in beauty products.  These tiny balls of plastic have been used in scrubs and toothpastes for additional exfoliation.  Once these microbeads go down the drain, however, they end up in local sewer systems and ultimately into rivers and lakes.  Scientific studies in Lake Michigan have found tens of millions of the little plastic particles.

The microbeads absorb pollutants and chemicals in the water, and then are eaten by fish who cannot distinguish them from proper food.  Scientists are now studying if the toxins from the microbeads make their way up the food chain to the humans eating these same fish.  Approximately 65 million pounds of fish are caught in the Great Lakes each year.

The Illinois Senate has already unanimously passed a bill which would ban the manufacture of products containing microbeads beginning December 31, 2017 and the sale of such products as of December 31, 2018.  The Illinois House has hearings scheduled for next week and is expected to vote on the bill during its Spring session.  Governor Quinn has stated that he will sign the bill once it comes to his desk.

Some environmental groups are dismayed at the long implementation for the ban.  Industry groups, however, state that the additional time is necessary to redesign, test, and implement substitutes in their products.  Several larger personal product companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Unilever are already working on eliminating microbeads from their products.  They are testing natural alternatives such as ground seeds, nuts, sugar and salt crystals, all of which are biodegradable.

UPDATE:  On May 22nd, 2014 the Illinois House amended and passed the microban bill unanimously.  It now goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

UPDATE 2:  On June 8th, 2014, Governor Quinn signed this bill into law, making Illinois officially the first state to ban microbeads.

“Banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow,” Quinn said. “Lake Michigan and the many rivers and lakes across our state are among our most important natural resources. We must do everything necessary to safeguard them.”

The new law bans the manufacture of personal care products containing microbeads by the end of 2017, the sale of personal care products and the manufacture of over the counter drugs by the end of 2018, and the sale of over the counter drugs by the end of 2019.

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