Senate Votes to Phase out Plastic, Environmentally-Destructive Microbeads in 2017

The U.S. Senate unanimously voted recently to phase out the use of plastic microbeads in soaps, body washes, and other personal care products starting in 2017.

The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 was approved following House approval last week and is now headed to President Barack Obama’s desk.

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The bill was created to protect fish and wildlife that are ingesting the microbeads after they are rinsed down the drain and are eventually dumped into lakes and rivers. [1]

In September, we reported on the environmental dangers posed by these tiny beads, 8 billion of which have already made their way into U.S. waterways. Imagine 3 tennis courts full of microbeads for an idea of how just how many that is.

And 8 billion microbeads is only 1% of how many truly exist – the rest are floating around in sewage treatment plants. Eventually, they’ll be spread out over grass and will find their way into streams before being strewn into larger waterways. The beads don’t dissolve and can remain in the environment for decades. [2]

“The Great Lakes have survived many a foe – severe pollution, oil spills, discharge from refineries, zebra mussels and attempts to steal our water, just to name a few,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. “We are going to fight any activity that puts our beloved Great Lakes in jeopardy.”

Microbeads have the potential to absorb pesticides and chemicals once they’re washed down the drain, worries Marcus Eriksen, a science educator and research director of the environmental group 5 Gyres.

“By the time the plastic gets downstream towards the ocean, they become these toxic pills,” he said, adding that he believes that many water treatment plants lack the ability to filter out microbeads, allowing them to flow into waterways where they are mistakenly eaten by fish.

“Big fish eat little fish, eventually the fish is on your dinner plate,” Eriksen said. “And you’re eating that fish, along with all the toxins it consumed along the way.”

Indeed, water treatment plants weren’t designed to handle the tiny plastic balls.

And according to recent studies, 90% of seabirds and 50% of sea turtles have consumed plastic.

Under the act, the manufacture of products containing plastic microbeads will be prohibited starting July 1, 2017. The federal law will usurp state laws that are starting to phase out microbeads over similar concerns.

The beads’ use in cosmetics and over-the-counter drugs will be banned in 2018 and 2019, respectively. [3]

Sources:

[1] The Hill

[2] CBS News

[3] Detroit Free Press

Featured image credit:  JUDY LEMMON

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