By Caitlin Rydinsky
Illinois is the first state in the nation to ban potentially hazardous plastic beads from common hygiene products.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 2727 into law over the weekend. The law would phase out the small plastic beads that are used in some exfoliating body scrubs and whitening toothpastes. Manufacturers will have to stop including the beads in products by 2017, and stores can no longer sell products with them after 2018. The use of the beads in prescription medicines, such as toothpastes or acne washes, will be eliminated in 2019. Consumers can identify products containing the plastic pieces by checking for polyethylene or polypropylene in the ingredients list.
The plastic pieces are designed to roll down the drain easily after use. However, the beads, which are about the size of a grain of salt, are too small to be caught by water filtration systems. So, they end up in bodies of water. “Banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow,” Governor Quinn said in a prepared statement. “Lake Michigan and the many rivers and lakes across our state are among our most important natural resources. We must do everything necessary to safeguard them.”
The issue was brought to the attention of lawmakers after a study of the Great Lakes performed by environmental groups found the plastic beads polluting the water. The study found twice the beads in Lake Erie samples than in some parts of the ocean.
Fish are eating the beads, which are brightly colored and small enough to be mistaken as microbes. The other remaining plastic pieces end up floating on top of the water or sinking to the floor after they absorb pollutants within the water. Once the plastic pieces are in the water, it is too difficult to eliminate them all because of their small size.
Big names in the personal hygiene industry, such as Johnson & Johnson and Unilevar, have already acknowledged the dangers of the beads and support replacing them with more natural items, such as ground nut shells, salt, rice, sugar, or silica. Backers of the ban say it is needed to ensure that the companies follow through and to cover any producers that have not signed on to phasing out the beads.
“Lake Michigan is a critically important natural resource for our state, and its health affects recreation, tourism and the flourishing of aquatic plant and animal species,” Sen. Heather Steans, who sponsored the bill, said in a written statement. “I’m proud that Illinois is an environmental leader, taking the first step away from plastic microbeads toward natural exfoliates, and I’m optimistic that we’ve started a nationwide movement to protect not just the Great Lakes, but other bodies of water with high concentrations of microbeads.”
New York and California have similar legislation waiting to be signed into law and other states surrounding the Great Lakes, such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Michigan have introduced bills that would eliminate the products from their states.