California starting process to ban microbeads from store shelves

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Just before heading out for the long Memorial Day weekend, California legislators gave the go-ahead vote to a plan that would eliminate products containing plastic microbeads from store shelves in the state.

With the 47-13 vote, the bill moves on to state Senate, which has already assigned it to a committee for consideration.

California is not the only state looking to ban the polyethylene bits from cosmetics and personal care products. The New York State Assembly voted 108-0 in favor of legislation banning the microbeads May 5. Illinois also has a microplastic ban in the works.

The California bill would establish a $2,500 per day fine for each violation of the microbead ban and also would exempt products containing less than 1 part per million by weight of microplastic.

The cosmetic industry, however, is urging the states to hold off on legislating a problem they say they are working to fix.

An amendment already pushed the proposed California ban back from the original 2018 start date to 2019.

Johnson & Johnson has halted development of products containing microbeads and is working out alternatives for the products that already containing them, attempting to avoid discontinuing a product entirely and upsetting consumers.

“Our goal is to complete the first phase of reformulation by the end of 2015,” the company said via email, which would cover about half the J&J products that include microbeads.

5 Gyres quietly approached Unilever at the end of 2012 and popular retail chain The Body Shop in early 2013, urging the companies to disavow PE microbeads after the environmental group’s study of the Great Lakes in 2012 found 600,000 microbeads per square kilometer (0.39 square mile) in two different Lake Erie water samples.

Microbeads have only become popular in the cosmetics market in the last decade, as a gentle exfoliating alternative to items such as ground walnut shells, which can have sharp edges that tear sensitive skin or pose an allergy risk to some consumers. But existing water treatment facilities are not designed to capture such small pieces of debris and the 0.3mm microbeads literally slip through the cracks and into the watershed.