New York City councilmembers announced new legislation Wednesday that, if passed, would ban the sale of cosmetic products containing “microbeads” — the small plastic beads that are interspersed throughout some exfoliating facial scrubs, toothpastes, and moisturizers.
This ban would prohibit the sale of hundreds of cosmetic products whose tiny beads are polluting our waterways and endangering wildlife.
“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,” Wildlife Conservation Society’s executive vice president of public affairs John Calvelli said in a statement of support of the ban on Wednesday. “Because they are too tiny for sewage treatment plants, they are not filtered out of the effluent that runs into our waterways.”
Microbeads have been under heavy scrutiny recently. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in September 2015 estimates that a staggering 8 trillion microbeads pass through sewage systems and are deposited into US aquatic habitats every single day.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office released a report in April 2015 demonstrating that 74% of water samples from 34 municipal and private treatment plants in New York state contained microbeads.
When these beads run into our lakes, rivers, streams, and seas, they can cause incredible damage. The synthetic polymers live there forever; and toxic chemicals tend to adhere to the tiny plastic balls.
And because the beads float rather than sink to the bottom, they become easy snacks for sea creatures, who often mistake them for tasty fish eggs.
Thousands of aquatic creatures — from large fish to tiny plankton — eat these harmful beads covered in toxins, which then accumulate in their bodies and eventually may end up on our dinner table.
“The effect is similar to grinding up plastic water bottles, other products of concern to environmentalists, and pumping them into oceans and lakes,” Rachel Abrams wrote in a story on microbeads for The New York Times.
Other states including California and Illinois, have banned microbeads, but bans in New York have failed in the past. Attorney General Schneiderman introduced a bill to the New York State legislature in 2014 aiming to ban the sale of products with microbeads smaller than 5 millimetres in size.
The push to pass this ban has been slow, in part because there are still gaps in our scientific understanding of how, exactly, plastic microbeads impact aquatic ecosystems. Nevertheless, authors of the Environmental Science and Technology paper argue, “this should not delay action.”
Check out a list of products that would potentially be banned if the New York State law passes. Is your facewash on there?
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