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NYC’s Microbead Bust

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Plastic microbeads, commonly used in facial scrubs and other personal care exfoliating products, could be nixed by New York City lawmakers as early as next year if a recent bill passes, which means stores would be prompted to stock eco-friendly alternatives. 

To date, nine U.S. states, most recently California, and four New York counties have adopted laws to ban microbeads, although no law has been adopted for the state of New York at this point. However, the Big Apple's city council is making progress with a bill that would ban these tiny plastics used in personal care products and over-the-counter drugs within the city’s five boroughs starting Jan. 1, 2016.

There are the three pieces of legislation currently in discussion with the New York City Council related to personal care products that contain microbeads:

  • Intro 928, a local law that would ban the sale of all personal care products that contain microbeads, which is supported by Attorney General Schneiderman.
  • Reso 3665, which calls upon the State of New York A.5896 and S39332 known as the MicrobeadFree Waters Act, which prohibits the sale of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads.
  • Reso 3696, which calls upon the federal government to adopt HR 1321/S.1424, the Microbeads-Free Waters Act of Committee on Consumer Affairs Committee on Consumer Affairs 6 2015, which would amend the Federal Foods, Drug and Cosmetic Act to ban the sale or distribution of cosmetics containing synthetic microbeads.

 

The real issue here with the microbeads is that so many times products contain microbeads, but it's not apparent from the product labeling. -Commissioner Julie Menin.

 

Pulling Microbeads Off Shelves: Not So Easy

Still, if a bill passes and a local law banning microbeads goes into effect, it could prove to be quite an overhaul for manufacturers and retailers, experts and lawmakers said. 

"The real issue here with the microbeads is that so many times products contain microbeads, but it's not apparent from the product labeling," said Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Julie Menin during a Oct. 26 hearing on the matter. "And so our concern is we want to be as vigilant as possible. So, we know that there are thousands and thousands of these products in literally thousands of stores." 

Sean Moore, from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, told the council's Committee on Consumer Affairs the scope of this bill is defined so broad that it could have the unintended effect of banning products that do not even contain microbeads.

"If the bill were to move forward as drafted, the time frame would be such that the manufacturers would not have the ability to reformulate all these products before the bill went into effect," said Moore. "So products will have to be pulled off the shelves, returned to the manufacturer."

Another product concern that came up was sunscreen ingredients and mid-polymers that are not microbeads, but could be prohibited under this bill on the molecular level.

"And I don't think that there is any other incident that we've seen that shows that molecules of plastic in the environment have been contributing to this concern that the bill seeks to address," Moore added. 

Ban Enforcement

Under the proposed New York City microbeads legislation, there is a penalty scheme of $2,500 for the first offense plus $1,000 for each extra offense on that same day. 

Suffolk County has already enforced a ban on microbeads and enlists the County's Department of Health Services for enforcement. Mary Cooley, the Director of City Legislative Affairs for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, said the department selects 10 personal care products for inspection for ingredients such as polyethylene and polypropylene, "and they list them all from there," she said. 

The city council plans to have a second hearing on microbeads on a later date. If it passes, it would then go to the full Council. 

Read more about microbeads' impact on the Big Apple on GCI's affiliate site Cosmetics & Toiletries.