Wednesday, January 17, 2018

It’s Time to Ban Microbeads

October 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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 microbeads 1

microbeads 2When we brush our teeth in the mornings and wash our faces at night, most of us don’t consider these acts to be harmful in any way. But for many (myself included), the toothpaste, soaps, and facial washes we’ve had in our homes contain tiny plastic microbeads that are leeching into our water supply and damaging the local environment.

Microbeads are often smaller than one millimeter and they are used as exfoliates in various personal care products. They are so small that when they go down the drain, they cannot be captured by water treatment centers. Filtration systems don’t catch them, either. This means that thousands of tiny plastic beads are flooding into our rivers, lakes, and streams.

Microbeads are so tiny that it might be surprising how much damage they can cause in our ecosystems. When these plastic particles fill the water, they attract pollutants already in the environment, like PCBs, and concentrate them to dangerous levels.

Fish and birds don’t know what microbeads are, so they eat them, also ingesting all of the pollutants stuck on the microbeads. This disrupts the food chain, it contaminates huge portions of the wildlife population, and it hurts our commercial and recreational fishing industries, because they can’t sell – and we can’t eat – fish that are filled with toxic plastic.

In April, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office released a report on the effects of microbeads on New York’s waterways. The report confirmed that microbeads are passing straight through our wastewater treatment plants into our waterways.

The evidence is clear — if left unstopped, microbeads have the potential to cause significant ecological damage across New York State, especially on Long Island’s coasts. So if we want to start cleaning our waterways, and if we want to make our communities as healthy as we can, then we need to remove microbeads from our personal care products.

microbeads 3I have introduced bipartisan legislation to the United States Senate that would ban plastic microbeads in personal care products. There are many natural and safe options that could be used instead of plastic microbeads, such as apricot scrubs and exfoliates made from walnut shells.

A number of companies have already pledged to remove microbeads from their supply chains. But we can’t just rely on voluntary moves by individual companies to solve a widespread problem like this. Right now, multiple states, including New York, have been working to solve this problem at the state level. Illinois banned microbeads last year, and thirteen other states, from California to Ohio, have their own proposals to do so as well at the time of this writing.

Suffolk County has taken the lead within New York State, recently proposing a county-wide ban. I hope the rest of the nation follows Suffolk County’s example. Because as we know well on the shores of Long Island, where water connects so many of our communities, no one is isolated from this problem.

Banning microbeads at the national level would help keep our waterways clean, usable, and safe. So let’s raise our voices and make sure this becomes law.

By U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

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Track the Microbead-Free Waters bill

Track S.2902 – Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014 here:

https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/2902

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