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U.S. Plastic Makers Support Phase-out of Microbeads in Personal Care Products

The American Chemistry Council declared on 22 September that U.S. plastic makers support the phase-out of synthetic microbeads in personal care products, a position that could facilitate the eventual consideration and approval of federal legislation to forbid or restrict the use of these environmentally hazardous particles. Currently used in a range of consumer applications, including personal care products such as skin care lotions, cosmetics, toothpaste, shampoo, exfoliating creams and certain over-the-counter drugs, synthetic microbeads are synthetic polymer particles generally manufactured to be larger than 0.1 micrometre and smaller than or equal to five millimetres in size for specific purposes. Microbeads are a serious concern because they can enter the environment primarily through effluent from wastewater treatment plants as a result of products being released down the drain, thereby contributing to plastic litter and causing a significant impact on biological diversity and ecosystems.

ACC stated following the release of a study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute on the prevalence of micro plastics in San Francisco Bay that “in addition to a variety of other stewardship programs, America’s plastics makers support legislation to phase out synthetic microbeads in personal care products that end up in marine environments.” The association highlighted its role in helping develop the Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter, which has been signed by more than 60 companies in 34 countries, and welcomed the more than 185 projects that have been planned, initiated or completed by plastics companies around the world. Major projects in the United States include providing away-from-home recycling bins on beaches and in state parks, sponsoring marine debris research, promoting recycling and the recovery of energy from post-use plastics, and encouraging best practices for handling raw materials.

At least seven U.S. states – California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland and New Jersey – have enacted bans or other restrictions on synthetic microbeads in personal care products and many others are considering similar legislation, further increasing the pressure for a federal ban. Enacted into law on 8 October, the California legislation forbids effective from 1 January 2020 the sale and offer for sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads that are used to exfoliate or cleanse in a rinse-off product, including toothpaste. Persons who violate or threaten to violate this ban will be liable for a civil penalty not to exceed US$2,500 per day for each violation in addition to any other penalty established by law. Meanwhile, synthetic microbead legislation introduced in Congress earlier this year by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Democrat-New York) and Rep. Frank Pallone (Democrat-New Jersey) has not yet been considered at the committee level.

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