In as early as a year’s time, some facial and body washes, soaps and other personal care products could disappear on the shelves. This is because the House of Representatives has voted to ban the use of microbeads, or small plastic spheres believed to pollute the waterways and endanger wildlife.

Microbeads were deemed instrumental in “unnecessary plastic pollution,” with recent research estimating that plastic waste results in up to $13 billion in annual environmental damages.

The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, if approved by the Senate, will restrict the manufacturing of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads in 2017. The ban will begin 2018, while use in over-the-counter medications will be prohibited in 2019.

“These microbeads are tiny plastic, but make for big-time pollution,” argued Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a co-sponsor of the bill.

A new Oregon State University study said as many as 8 million microbeads every day are being released into American waterways and aquatic ecosystems. Tinier than a pinhead, these microbeads get past water filtration systems, flow into streams and lakes, and are consumed mistakenly by fish as food, putting marine life and humans who eat them at risk of serious internal damage.

In April, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a report that demonstrated that 74 percent of water samples from 34 New York private and municipal treatment plants contained microbeads.

In an official statement, John Calvelli, executive vice president of public affairs of Wildlife Conservation Society, welcomed the development.

“Microbeads, those tiny plastic particles that have recently been added to cosmetic products to add ‘abrasion and exfoliation,’ are finding their way into our lakes, rivers, streams and the ocean,” he warned.

Calvelli said there are natural alternatives to these microbeads, which are already gradually being phased out by manufacturers themselves due to consumer pressure. He also pinpointed a renewed effort in New York to take care of its seascape.

“More attention paid to the water around us means healthier ecosystems, which affect the food we eat, the work we do, and the recreational activities we enjoy,” he added.

California, Illinois, and other states banned microbeads, but New York previously failed. On Sept. 30, New York City Council members announced a move to ban the sale of microbead-containing items.

Photo: Travel Collector | Flickr

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