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Plastic Microbeads Federally Banned from Personal Care Products

sea salt exfoliant

On December 28, 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which will phase out the use of tiny plastic microbeads in personal care products, including facial scrubs and toothpaste. The national law starts by banning the manufacturing of plastic microbeads starting July 2017, and is followed by a ban on selling any “rinse-off cosmetic that is a nonprescription drug” and contains plastic microbeads in 2018 and 2019. Illinois was the first state (2014) to ban the future sale of cosmetics that contain microbeads, and a number of states followed suit, including, most recently, California.

For years, evidence has been mounting that the tiny plastic microbeads found in personal care products are too small to be removed by wastewater treatment facilities. The microbeads enter our waterways at an astounding rate; it’s estimated that 8 trillion microbeads are released from waste water treatment plants in the United States every day. The flood of microbeads pollutes waterways and is washed into oceans where the beads are consumed by marine wildlife that can’t differentiate the plastic beads from food. The microbeads and other plastic debris have become so rampant in our oceans that 25 percent of fish sampled from markets in California and Indonesia contained man-made plastic debris. To make matters worse, microbeads attract and absorb pollutants, including flame retardants and DDT. After the chemical-soaked microbeads are ingested by marine animals, they’re able to make their way into our food system.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait until 2018 to purchase personal care products that are free of plastic microbeads. The organization Beat the Microbead has assembled a list of products that use biodegradable exfoliants, including sea salt, crushed apricot pits and walnut shells. You could also try making your own body care products. Check out these recipes for easy homemade toothpaste and sea salt exfoliating treatment to get started.

Photo by Fotolia/Ekaterina Garyuk: Biodegradable exfoliants, such as sea salt, are better options for our skin and the environment.

Hannah Kincaid is an Associate Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. She works on the magazine’s natural health beat, and in her spare time she focuses on restoring her century-old farmhouse, studying native plant medicine and practicing yoga.