New bills seek to get microbeads out of personal care products 

MADISON — As mounting evidence shows plastic microbeads getting into our Great Lakes, state lawmakers are poised to kick off the new legislative session with bills to curb the amount of plastic pollution affecting our waters.

Microbeads are small pieces of plastic added to products like body scrubs and toothpastes. Due to their small size, they can work through water treatment systems and into our waterways, aquatic life and our own bodies. Once there, the microbeads just keep adding up, since they don’t easily break down in the environment.

“It’s great to see these legislators proactively tackling this emerging environmental issue,” says Tyson Cook, director of science and research at Clean Wisconsin. “Legislation like this is critical to protecting our water, our wildlife and our health, here and around the nation.”

The bills from Senator Rob Cowles and Representative Mary Czaja are based on Illinois’s 2014 law to ban microbeads. The bills would require manufacturers to phase out the use of microbeads in their products in the next few years and ultimately off store shelves. The bills are currently being circulated for co-sponsorship.

Recent research shows that the Great Lakes are teeming with microbeads; for instance, an average of 17,000 tiny pieces of plastic per square kilometer has been found in Lake Michigan. In addition to polluting the water we enjoy, this plastic gets in the fish we catch, where it can harm their digestive systems. Chemicals in the plastic can also cause other abnormalities, and the microbeads can kickstart the process of biomagnification, which causes much greater concentrations of chemicals in animals higher up the food chain.

“While some major companies have agreed to eventually phase out microbeads, it’s imperative that we do all we can to protect our waters and reduce the use of unnecessary microbeads,” says Cook. “Having focused on keeping pollution out of our waterways for over four decades, Clean Wisconsin is happy to see these among the first bills of the new session and help move them forward.”