Legal, Plastic Pollution
December 29 2015

Nationwide Victory in the Battle against the Bead

by Angela Howe

President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act bill into law yesterday, marking the first nationwide law to ban a plastic product in order to protect our ocean and waterways!  The Microbead-Free Waters Act will ban the manufacture of microbeads starting in July 2017, followed by a ban on manufacturing over-the-counter drugs and on sales of cosmetics (including toothpastes) with microbeads to start in July 2018. A ban on sales of over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads will begin July 2019.

The bill was championed by New Jersey Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone and Michigan Republican Congressman Fred Upton to phase out the production and sale of tiny bits of plastic called microbeads.  The bipartisan piece of legislation unexpectedly moved quickly through the House of Representatives and the Senate and went on to the President's desk on December 18th.  Some reports link the quick movement through Congress to the patchwork of state and local laws that were passed in the previous year to regulate plastic microbead pollution, including the California legislation and Connecticut legislation that Surfrider Foundation helped support at the state level.  Reportedly, the personal care products industry preferred nationwide legislation to the patchwork of state and local laws.  While the federal law does preempt state and local law, it does not include a loophole for so-called "biodegradable" microbeads and goes into effect quicker than most of the other legislation. 

Microbeads menace our ocean.  The small plastic beads found in exfoliating face washes, body scrubs and even toothpaste, wash off our bodies, down the drain, and easily evade municipal wastewater treatment filtration to pollute our waterways, Great Lakes and ocean.  This is why Surfrider has fought to battle the bead at the local, state and federal level, and why we are celebrating this holiday victory for the health of our ocean!  At the individual level, you can help by not buying any products that contain plastic microbeads and by reducing your overall consumption of single-use plastics, which are the main source of litter on our beaches and plastic pollution in the ocean.