New York proposing a microbead ban

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: February 11, 2014 4:25 pm ET
Updated: February 11, 2014 5:10 pm ET

Related to this story

Topics Consumer Products, Sustainability, Public Policy

New York State is looking to become the first in the nation to outlaw microbeads, those tiny polyethylene or polypropylene pieces that critics allege cause big pollution problems in rivers and lakes and oceans.

The aptly named proposed Microbead-Free Waters Act is aimed squarely at the round little beads that have found their way into a variety of beauty and cosmetic products over the years.

A problem, critics say, is that those beads that make us feel good by scrubbing away the day's dirt, end up being washed down the drain. And, from there, it's only a matter of time before they become pollution as they are too small to be captured at water treatment plants.

Some consumer products companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, already have agreed to remove the beads from their offerings thanks to a push by environmental group 5 Gyres Institute.

But Stiv Wilson, policy director at 5 Gyres, said his group ultimately realized a legislative solution would bring about change more rapidly than dealing with individual firms and products that contain these microbeads.

"I didn't want to play Whac-A-Mole. There's just so many different products out there and this is going to be a lot more efficient way to get these beads out of our environment," he said.

New York State was eager to be the first to propose the legislation, but several more states are in line to introduce similar legislation this year and next. A proposal could come as early as Thursday in California, Wilson said.

"I think you are going to see a lot of dominoes falling not just nationally, but internationally as well. We've got a pretty serious campaign lined up to attack this problem," he said.

The proposed law, unveiled by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and state Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, wants to "prohibit the production, manufacture, distribution and sale in New York of any beauty product, cosmetic or other personal care product containing plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size," the attorney general's office said.

That's about the size of a pea.

Microbeads can be found in products such as facial scrubs, soaps, shampoo and toothpaste, the attorney general said. They have replaced natural abrasive materials such as ground walnut shells and sea salt.

"When people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads," said Sweeney, chairman of the State Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, in a statement.

"I never met anyone who has wanted plastic on their face or in their fish," he said.

A couple of Dutch non-government organizations are fighting against the tiny plastic pieces through their Beat the Microbead campaign. They launched an app in 2012 to help consumers identify products using the material. The United Nations Environment Program joined in last year to expand the app for international use beyond the Netherlands.

Wilson's 5 Gyres previously conducted research that found 600,000 microbeads per square kilometer in two different Lake Erie water samples.

A typical tube of facial cleanser can contain 350,000 microbeads, he said. "We're releasing a massive amount of plastic into the environment. Trillions and trillions of these beads."

Along with the direct release of the small plastic beads, 5 Gyres is concerned that they also attract and concentrate pollutants in the water. This, the group claims, can cause problems when fish eat the beads and see their tissue absorb the pollutants. "We think this becomes a human health concern," he said.

"We're definitely not an anti-plastics group. We're a group that doesn't want to see this stuff escaping into the environment," Wilson said.


Comments

New York proposing a microbead ban

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: February 11, 2014 4:25 pm ET
Updated: February 11, 2014 5:10 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

China's plastics industry making a shift

January 27, 2015 3:41 pm ET

China's plastic industry is in the midst of a “profound adjustment” from large-scale and high-speed growth to growth focused on quality,...    More

Image

UK legislators reject fracking moratorium

January 26, 2015 12:19 pm ET

UPDATED: Environmental campaigners turned their anger on the United Kingdom's Labour party Monday after a vote to impose a moratorium on fracking...    More

Image

Major packaging merger includes plastics operations

January 26, 2015 12:24 pm ET

A merger of packaging companies MeadWestvaco Corp. and Rock-Tenn Inc. will create a new company with nearly $16 billion in annual sales.    More

Image

Auto industry on the hunt for new lightweight materials

January 26, 2015 4:03 pm ET

The auto industry is focusing on lightweighting, and this is igniting a race to find new materials that can meet ever-changing performance needs of...    More

Image

Continental builds low-emission interior trim factory in China

January 26, 2015 12:33 pm ET

Benecke-Kaliko AG is making the largest investment in its history to build an environmentally friendly auto interior trim plant in China, prompted by ...    More

Market Reports

Plastics in Automotive: Innovation & Emerging Trends

This special report newly released by PN and sponsored by The Conair Group examines current trends in the use of plastics in automotive, materials innovations and the changing landscape. It includes a review of legislative/regulatory activity impacting vehicle development and lightweighting, market opportunities & challenges for mold and toolmakers, innovative design strategies being implemented by major OEMs and suppliers, as well as a review of key indicators in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and China.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Injection Molding Market Analysis & Processor Rankings

Plastics News BUNDLED package contains our in-depth Market Analysis of the Injection Molding segment. You will gain keen insight on current trends and our economic outlook.

As a BONUS this includes PN's updated 2014 database of North American Injection Molders RANKED by sales volume. Sort, merge, mail & prospect by end market, materials processed, region, # of plants and more.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events