National Microbead Ban Moves Forward in the House

UPDATE (12/10/15): On Dec. 7, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which prohibits the manufacture of cosmetics containing microbeads as of July 1, 2017 and bans the sale of cosmetics with microbeads as of July 1, 2018. Rinse-off cosmetic nonprescription drugs are provided an additional year for both deadlines. The bill was sent to the Senate on Dec. 8, where it will be reconciled with a similar bill introduced in May 2015 by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Gary Peters (D-MI), which bans the sale of cosmetics containing microbeads as of Jan. 1, 2018.

In addition to Illinois, California recently adopted legislation banning the sale of cosmetics containing microbeads, including those made of so-called biodegradable plastics as well as synthetic plastics, as of 2020, and both Ohio and Michigan are considering similar legislation. However, once national legislation is adopted, the federal law would supersede the state bans.

Examples of cosmetics and other consumer products that contain microbeads, as well as those that do not contain them, is available here.

UPDATE (6/23/14): Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) introduced legislation, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014, on June 18 that would prohibit the sale or distribution of personal care products that contain synthetic plastic microbeads. The bill would ban the sale or distribution of cosmetics products containing plastic microbeads effective January 1, 2018.

“These tiny plastic particles that are polluting our environment are found in products specifically designed to be washed down shower drains,” said Pallone. “And many people buying these products are unaware of their damaging effects. If we know that these products will eventually reach our waterways, we must make sure that they don’t contain synthetic plastic that does not biodegrade and ultimately pollute our waterways. We have a responsibility to put a stop to this unnecessary plastic pollution. By phasing out the use of plastic microbeads and transitioning to non-synthetic alternatives, we can protect U.S. waters before it’s too late.”


Illinois has become the first state to ban the manufacture and sale of consumer products containing synthetic plastic microbeads, frequently found in facial scrubs, body washes, and cosmetics. The state passed the ban to address an increasing water pollution problem in Lake Michigan and other waterways across Illinois.

On June 8, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed Senate Bill 2727, which amends the state Environmental Protection Act with new requirements for the elimination of synthetic plastic microbeads in personal care products. The new law restricts the manufacture of personal care products containing such microbeads effective Dec. 31, 2017 and bans the sale of personal care products containing the material beginning Dec. 31, 2018.

Microbeads are minute plastic beads that are used in consumer products such as toothpaste and cosmetic scrubs to produce a “feel-good factor.” After use, they are flushed into wastewater systems where, because of their small size and non-biodegradable composition, they escape into waterways. A major concern with microbeads is that because of their very small size, they have a large surface area by volume, thus serving as highly efficient toxic accumulators. Once discharged into the water, they can be immediately ingested by tiny organisms at the bottom of the food chain, with toxins then accumulating in larger fish and other animals, posing both an immediate and long-term threat to the health of our lakes, rivers, and oceans and the seafood we eat.

While Illinois is the first state to enact a ban on the sale and production of microbead-containing products, the issue is gaining attention in other states. Similar bans are being considered in California, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and New York. A growing number of soap and beauty product manufacturers are voluntarily phasing out the use of microbeads. According to the advocacy group Plastic Free Seas, Unilever, The Body Shop, Johnson & Johnson, Beiersdorf AG, L'Oreal, and Procter & Gamble have all agreed to discontinue their use of microbeads in consumer products over the next several years.

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