The California State Assembly passed a bill on Friday aiming to ban retailers in the state from selling products made with microbeads.
Made of plastic, these tiny beads are included as an exfoliating ingredient in various consumer products. While they give consumers flawless complexions, they also greatly pollute bodies of water and pose threats to fish and other marine wildlife that mistakenly ingest them and pass the microbeads along the food chain.
According to Assemblyman Richard Bloom, banning microbeads in consumer products makes more sense than getting cities to install expensive filters for catching them before they make their way into lakes, rivers and oceans.
"The best way to stop plastic pollution is at the source," he explained.
If passed into law, the bill will prohibit the selling of products containing microbeads starting in 2020, even those containing biodegradable alternatives. Illinois, Colorado, New Jersey and Maine already have laws in place restricting the use of microbeads while bills in Oregon, Washington, Minnesota and Michigan are still pending.
Since biodegradable alternatives to plastic microbeads will also be banned by Assembly bill 888, California's take on the ban will be the strictest yet.
Stiv Wilson, The Story of Stuff Project campaigns director, agrees with the state's decision to be comprehensive, saying everything on Earth is technically biodegradable on a geological time scale.
"It's not biodegradable in a meaningful time frame," he clarified.
One of the alternatives to plastic microbeads being developed uses a new ingredient called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). As a naturally occurring plastic that comes from mushrooms, PHA can be dissolved in marine ecosystems within just a month. Even such a viable compromise will not fly if the bill is passed worded as it is.
A similar bill had been passed by the California State Assembly earlier but had failed to gather enough votes in the State Senate to move forward. Supporters of the current bill are hopeful the new concessions included will boost its chances of being approved by the state senators.
Manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have conceded to laws banning microbeads by removing the ingredient from their products. J&J, for instance, will have polyethylene microbeads removed by 2017 from its personal care products while P&G has already halted the use of plastic microbeads from Dove soaps at the start of the year.
However, according to a database maintained by the Environmental Working Group, there remains over 3,000 products still using polyethylene.
Photo: Dan Taylor | Flickr