Obama signs Microbead-Free Waters Act into law

5-Jan-2016

Cosmetics containing plastic microbeads soon prohibited from being manufactured

Credit: Leah Stiles via Wikimedia Commons

President Barack Obama has signed into US law the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. The act prohibits the manufacture and introduction to market of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads. The intention is to phase out the manufacture of such products by 1 July 2017 with sales stopped by 1 July 2018.

The bill was first introduced on 4 March 2015 by Democrat Frank Pallone Jr, Representative for New Jersey’s 6th congressional district, and was approved by Obama on 28 December 2015. The bill had 37 cosponsors.

The act, which amends Section 301 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, applies to rinse-off cosmetics including toothpaste. The term ‘plastic microbeads’ relates to any solid plastic particle that is less than five millimetres and is intended for use to exfoliate or cleanse the human body.

The phase-out will also affect non-prescription drugs that qualify as a rinse-off cosmetic. The manufacture of such products will be prohibited from 1 July 2018, and sales from 1 July 2019.

Taking the lead

Up until now, the US is the only country to have written a microbead ban into law. The Netherlands was the first to announce a nationwide ban (by 2016) on microbeads, albeit unofficially, while shortly afterwards Canada publicised its intention to eliminate microbead use in personal care products in the country.

But with so many countries still in microbead limbo, cosmetics companies worldwide have been shouldering the responsibility themselves with many starting to remove microbeads from their formulations due to concerns over the impact of the synthetic particles on marine life and ecosystems.

Companies that have taken a stand against microbeads and made pledges to never use them in formulations include Lush Cosmetics, Spiezia Organics, Bulldog Skincare For Men, Pai and Rituals, among others.

Many major multinational corporations have stated their intention to phase out microbeads from their products too, although for most the process is still in motion. P&G and Johnson & Johnson have said they both aim to phase out microbeads by 2017, while Unilever said it hoped to end to phase out microbeads globally by 2015. Similarly retailers have also been removing the particles from their own-ranges, with M&S completely removing microbeads from its product ranges Formula and Pure from this year onwards.

Non-profit organisations are also active that support a microbead-free cosmetics landscape. Beat The Microbead offers consumers an app that allows them to scan the barcode of a cosmetics product in order to find out if it contains microbeads and, if so, whether the manufacturer has plans to remove them.