New York state lawmakers have set their sights on an unlikely target: facial scrubs. More specifically, the washes, soaps, and toothpastes that contain smaller-than-a-salt-grain plastic beads, which are touted for their exfoliation abilities and derided for what scientists say they're doing to our ecosystem. As the New York Times reports, the beads are a kind of "microplastic" small enough to evade wastewater facility treatment efforts; they've been found in the Great Lakes (which are populated by tens of millions of them, say scientists), the Pacific, and the Los Angeles River; late last month, in fact, the LAT dug into the damage the polyethylene and polypropylene beads are doing. The Buffalo News reports the beads can persist for centuries, and they don't float there innocuously: Marine life will eat the beads, which can become toxin-coated; they may then enter the food chain.
Albany lawmakers will today announce a bill that would ban the sale of cosmetic and beauty products made with plastic particles that measure fewer than 5 millimeters; it would be the first state with such a ban. While some manufacturers are taking steps of their own—Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, for instance, are on a path toward doing away with the beads—the policy director behind the plastic-fighting group that is working with the state's politicians says the beads persist in thousands of products, and that trying to go after single manufacturers is "akin to playing Whac-a-Mole." IPhone app Beat the Microbead can alert you to whether a product contains the beads. (Read more microbeads stories.)