Not a small issue: States seek to ban plastic microbeads

Posted By: FiscalNote

The microbeads in your favorite face scrub are wreaking havoc on waterways around the United States. The little plastic beads are ubiquitous in personal care products, and slip through most water treatment systems, allowing them to end up in the environment.

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For example, Lake Ontario, one of the worst affected bodies of water, has concentrations of up to 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer. The beads cause problems because they can accumulate persistent organic pollutants like DDT and Polychlorinated Biphenyls, and when fish eat them, those toxins may be magnified up the food chain. In addition, some fish can’t excrete plastic efficiently which causes internal damage.

States are responding to the problem by introducing microbead bans. Illinois was the first state to pass a ban in 2014. The bill bans the sale of personal care products containing microbeads beginning in 2018. The sale of over the counter drugs that use microbeads would be banned in 2019. No other microbead legislation was enacted in 2014.

Ten states have already introduced bans on microbeads for this session. New Jersey’s A 3083 has passed both chambers of the legislature and now the legislature is reviewing a conditional veto by Gov. Chris Christie (the veto is about penalties, the basic structure of the ban has been agreed upon). Interestingly, the ban is less strict than that passed in Illinois, banning personal care products containing microbeads in 2019, and over the counter drugs containing microbeads in 2020.

Joining New Jersey in seeking to ban microbeads are, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. The consensus target deadlines for most states are 2018 or 2019. In fact, Illinois’ bill was accepted into the Council of State Government’s (CSG) Suggested State Legislation Volume for 2014 (see the docket here).

However, Hawaii and Wyoming are proposing the most aggressive laws in the country, with the Hawaii ban coming into effect in 2016, and Wyoming’s ban in 2015. With such a strong consensus in the rest of the country, and CSG’s imprimatur on the 2018 deadline, it is likely that the Hawaii and Wyoming bills will be amended towards a 2018 or 2019 deadline.

Some manufacturers have already declared they will begin phasing out microbeads, sometimes in advance of the bans proposed by states. However, such announcements have not yet limited state legislators’ appetite for introducing bans. Expect several more bills with bans coming into effect in 2018 to be dropped this year as states look to follow the path of Illinois.