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More States Enact Plastic Microbead Bans; Exception Made for Biodegradable Beads

Seven states joined Illinois by enacting bans on the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads during their most recent legislative sessions. The Illinois ban was enacted in June 2014. Most of these laws define "synthetic plastic microbead" as "any intentionally added non-biodegradable, solid plastic particle measuring less than five millimeters in size and used to exfoliate or cleanse in a rinse-off product." The new laws are listed below.

  • New Jersey: The governor signed legislation on March 23, 2015 that implemented Chapter 28, Title 58 of the state's revised statutes. The act bans the manufacture of personal care products that contain microbeads beginning in 2018 and their sale beginning in 2019, and the sale of over the counter (OTC) drugs that contain microbeads beginning in 2020.
  • Maine: A ban on microbeads in personal care products and OTC drugs become law in Maine on March 24, 2015. The ban becomes effective for personal care products in 2018 and for OTC drugs in 2019.
  • Colorado: House Bill 15-1144 was signed into law on March 26, 2015. The act prohibits the production, manufacture, or acceptance for sale of personal care products—including OTC drugs—that contain plastic microbeads. The ban will be phased in between January 1, 2018, through January 1, 2020.
  • Indiana: HB 1185 became law on April 14, 2015. It stipulates that manufacturers may not produce personal care products with synthetic plastic microbeads after 2017, or OTC drugs with microbeads after 2018. A ban on selling these products becomes effective one year after the manufacturing ban.
  • Maryland: HB 216 was signed into law on May 12, 2015. It bans the manufacture of personal care products containing plastic microbeads at the end of 2017 and their sale at the end of 2018.
  • Connecticut: The state's 2016-17 budget, signed into law on June 30, 2015, includes a microbead ban. (See General Assembly Bill No. 1502 on implementing provisions of the state budget.) The ban prohibits the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing microbeads effective December 31, 2017, and for OTC drugs beginning on December 31, 2018.
  • Wisconsin: Senate Bill 15 was signed into law July 1, 2015. The act prohibits the manufacture of personal care products containing plastic microbeads beginning December 31, 2017 and the manufacture of OTC drugs containing microbeads beginning December 31, 2018.

While all of the currently enacted microbead bans include an exception for biodegradable microbeads, the Connecticut ban allows for an independent study on biodegradable plastics and requires the state to pass legislation to exempt biodegradable plastic microbeads if the study demonstrates they actually biodegrade and do not adversely impact the environment.

A number of other states, including Michigan, Minnesota, California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and New York, proposed banning microbeads during the past year. The bill introduced in California, AB-888 Waste management: plastic microbeads, was significant in that it does not provide an exception for biodegradable plastic microbeads.

Even before Illinois enacted the first state ban of microbeads in personal care products, manufacturers began efforts to remove them from their products. Personal care product manufacturers—such as Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and others—had already begun eliminating microbeads from their products or had announced plans to do so. And in May of this year, the Personal Care Products Council issued a statement, noting that, "our member companies have committed to discontinue formulating products with plastic microbeads in favor of other viable alternatives."

While it supports the discontinued use of plastic microbeads, the Personal Care Products Council does point out that time is needed to reformulate products and assure the safety of alternative ingredients. To achieve this, the Council supports federal plastic microbead legislation that would establish uniform standards and phase out dates. A ban on the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. H.R. 1321, "The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015," in March 2015. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Health on March 6, 2015, and no further action was taken. It would expand the definition of adulterated cosmetics in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to include cosmetics that contain synthetic plastic microbeads.