After the U.S House and Senate voted to unanimously pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, the bill sat on President Obama’s desk for final approval. On Monday, December 28, President Obama signed the bill into law.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 is a bipartisan bill focused on eliminating microbeads and their pollution from the Great Lakes. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used in cosmetic products that are small enough to filter through municipal wastewater treatment plants after they’re rinsed down the drain. According to the new law, a microbead is defined as “any solid plastic particle” less than 5 millimeters in size intended for use as an exfoliate. The law’s clear wording and definition of a microbead doesn’t allow for manufacturing loopholes to other plastics.
After being rinsed down the drain, microbeads often end up floating in the Great Lakes where they can soak up toxins like a sponge and then enter the food chain after being mistaken for food by fish and other wildlife.
In the Great Lakes, anywhere between 1,500 to 1.1 million microbeads can be found per square mile. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario have the highest concentrations.
Now that the bill has been signed into law, microbeads will be phased out of consumer products over the next few years. In July 2017, a ban on manufacturing microbeads will go into effect with product-specific manufacturing and sales bans coming in 2018 and 2019.
When looking for products with microbeads, some will come out and say ‘Microbeads’ right on the label. However, other times microbeads are labeled as polyethylene or polypropylene. Companies like L’Oreal, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have already started phasing out microbeads for alternatives like sand and apricot seeds.
It’s a positive change that couldn’t come soon enough for the Great Lakes, their wildlife, and the food chain.