Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Assemblyman Robert Sweeney announced a new bill to ban microbeads—small plastic beads usually found in face or body scrubs, shampoos, and toothpaste.
The plastic beads have been found to pollute New York’s waters in alarmingly high levels in recent years, according to researchers.
“From the Great Lakes to the Hudson River to Long Island Sound, our commitment to protecting and restoring New York’s waters is among our most important responsibilities,” Schneiderman stated.
In 2012, State University of New York at Fredonia researchers found that half of all plastics collected from the surface of Lake Erie were microbeads used in cosmetics and toiletries.
The plastics can stay in tact for centuries, accumulating toxic chemicals. The chemicals, if eaten by fish, can be passed onto the birds or people who eat the fish.
The legislation would be the first of its kind in the nation, and product manufacturing giants like Proctor and Gamble, Unilever, and Colgate-Palmolive have already made recent commitments to phase out the use of microbeads.
Microbeads are less than 5 millimeters in size and often used in place of walnut shells, sea salt, and other natural materials. Because of their size, the microbeads are easily washed down the drain and into the sewer system to be discharged into rivers, lakes, and oceans.
Consumers can check for microbeads in their products by looking for “polyethylene” or “polypropylene” on the ingredients list.
“When people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads,” stated Sweeney, who serves as the Environmental Conservation Committee chair in the Assembly. “I never met anyone who has wanted plastic on their face or in their fish.”
The Great Lakes are the only New York open waters that have been sampled for plastic pollution to date.
The legislation impacts New York’s efforts to activate the waterfront as well, stated State Senator Mark Grisanti.
“Protecting our Great Lakes – especially Lake Erie – goes hand in hand with revitalizing our waterfront. From Grand Island all the way to Brant, our waterfront is undergoing an incredible transformation,” Grisanti said.
“I support the concept of the Microbead-Free Waters Act and I believe it will keep dangerous plastic pollution out of our water and protect regional assets like the Great Lakes, which have become epicenters for economic development,” Grisanti said.