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By Amena H. Saiyid
Dec. 18 — A ban on the sale, manufacture, and distribution of synthetic plastic microbeads in facial washes, soaps and shampoos could start as early as July 2017 following the Senate's approval of the legislation by unanimous consent on Dec. 18.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, now heads to President Barack Obama's desk.
The Senate's unanimous consent came just about ten days after the House approved by voice vote H.R. 1321, which was authored by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and shepherded through the House by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). Upton is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Pallone is its ranking member (235 DEN A-7, 12/8/15).
Environmental groups and wastewater communities have raised concerns about plastic microbeads because the tiny pieces of spherical plastics swirl down the drains of U.S. households, flow unimpeded through wastewater treatment plants and spill into rivers, lakes and estuaries, accumulating in ever-increasing quantities where people fish and swim.
One tube of exfoliating facewash can contain more than 350,000 microbeads, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which lauded the Senate's action and called on Obama to sign the bill into law.
The Personal Care Products Council, noting that plastic microbeads in such products constitute a very tiny part of the marine pollution problem, has also endorsed the bill, saying a national law was better than a patchwork of state regulations. Lezlee Westine, the council's president and chief executive officer, in a Dec. 18 statement said the bill creates “a planned and pragmatic national phase-out process in the interest of both consumers and the personal care products and cosmetics industry.”
The Consumer Health Products Association joined the American Chemistry Council, Personal Care Products Association, and SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, in support of H.R. 1321.
The microbead ban would become effective July 1, 2017. A year later, the ban would apply to the manufacture of over-the-counter drugs as well as sale of rinse-off cosmetics containing microbeads. The bill also would ban the sale of over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads, starting July 1, 2019.
The ban also would prohibit the use of all alternatives and would apply to any “intentionally added” plastic microbeads defined in the bill as “any solid plastic particle that is less than five millimeters in size and is intended to be used to exfoliate or cleanse the human body or any part thereof.”
It also would preempt microbead bans that already exist in nine states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey and Wisconsin (184 DEN B-1, 9/23/15).
According to Pallone, H.R. 1321 explicitly banned the use of biodegradable plastic as an alternative ingredient, a loophole that was discovered in a number of existing state laws.
The closing of the biodegradable provision loophole in the California bill is what set the stage for a strong federal bill, Blake Kopcho, oceans campaigner for Center for Biological Diversity, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 18.
“The combination of closing the biodegradable loophole and the accelerated timeline of implementation makes this a strong bill that reduces a major contributor of plastic pollution at the source before it ever has a chance to reach the ocean,” Kopcho said.
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