House Votes to Ban Microbeads From Soaps and Cosmetics

The tiny pieces of plastic are filling US waters
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2015 12:50 PM CST
House Votes to Ban Microbeads From Soaps and Cosmetics
A sample of microbeads collected in eastern Lake Erie is shown on the face of a penny.   (AP Photo/Courtesy, Carolyn Box, File)

From now on, it's full-size beads or nothing. Smithsonian Magazine reports the US House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would ban the sale of products containing microbeads. These pinhead-size pieces of plastic are supposed to help exfoliate and have recently found their way into everything from soap to toothpaste. But in addition to exfoliation, microbeads are really good at avoiding water filtration systems, according to NBC News. One recent study showed 8 billion microbeads make their way into the US' lakes, rivers, and streams every day. And in 2013, researchers found the Great Lakes were "riddled" with microbeads, the Guardian reports. “These microbeads are tiny plastic but make for big-time pollution,” Republican Rep. Fred Upton says.

Upton is a co-sponsor of the Microbead Free Waters Act, the Guardian reports. If approved by the Senate, the bill would start phasing out microbeads in July 2017. It's important to keep microbeads out of the environment because they look a lot like food to fish and other aquatic life. According to NBC, plastic microbeads wreak havoc on the fish themselves and can potentially harm people eating contaminated fish. Microbeads are already banned in Illinois, and similar legislation is being considered by California, Ohio, and Michigan, the Guardian reports. Smithsonian Magazine calls the Microbead Free Waters Act "a start," pointing out there are still tons of microbeads in US waters and more plastic entering the environment every day. Studies estimate plastic waste causes up to $13 billion in environmental damage every year, NBC reports. (More environment stories.)

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