The California Assembly passed a bill that would ban the sale of products containing plastic microbeads by 2020.
The measure (AB 888) still needs the approval of the state's senate and governor, but is expected to move through the legislative process relatively easily and with bipartisan support. Although California would not represent the first statewide microbead ban, it would be the most populous state to take it on.
Penned by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), the bill allows for fines up to $2,500 per day per violation once the ban goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. It also would establish the Plastic Pollution Fund within the California State Treasury, where 50 percent of all microbead fines would be deposited. The Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery would have access to the fund for programs and grants to local governments for fighting plastic pollution.
California is far from the first state to take on the growing problem of microbeads finding their way from personal care products into U.S. waterways. Since a 2013 study by environmental group 5 Gyres found 600,000 microbeads per square kilometer (0.39 square mile) in Lake Erie water samples, 26 states have considered some kind of microbead ban or restriction, with New Jersey the first to pass a state-wide ban, which will be phased in from 2018 to 2020.
State bans, however, would be moot if a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Congress (HR 1321) now making its way through Congress is signed by the president. The bill, written by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and cosponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) would ban microbeads from personal care products sold in the United States starting in 2018. In the Senate, Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has introduced a companion bill. Even supporters of state bans have come out in favor a of federal microbead ban, to avoid ending up with 50 different state laws regulating the 0.3 millimeter bits of polyethylene and polypropylene.
Cosmetics companies are also already acting, with Unilever completing its microbead phase-out this year along with the The Body Shop. Johnson & Johnson plans to be free of microbeads by the end of 2015 and Procter & Gamble expects its PE phaseout to take until 2017.