A new report [PDF] from the New York Environmental Protection Bureau outlines just how the 19 tons of microbeads dumped into New York waterways each year impact the environment – and consumers’ stomachs.
The report is the latest effort by officials in New York to propel the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which would ban the tiny beads from personal hygiene products sold in the state. The Act, first introduced in February, would be the first of its kind in the United States.
“New York has always been at the forefront of national progress when it comes to addressing the issue of plastic pollution,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says in a news release. “We require plastic bag recycling in large stores. We banned harmful chemicals in baby bottles and pacifiers. We are expanding our bottle deposit law to include plastic water bottles. By passing the Microbead-Free Waters Act, we will show that New York remains a leader in protecting the health of our families and our environment.”
According to the report, after microbeads are washed from our bathrooms, they easily travel through wastewater treatment plants and enter our waterways. The tiny beads then act as sponges for toxic chemical pollutants and become an attractive snack for marine wildlife. And because we humans often like to eat seafood, that means there’s a pretty good chance microbeads could end up in your stomach.
A 2012 survey of New York’s Great Lakes revealed that some of the highest concentrations of microplastics were prevalent in the water. Researchers used a mesh collector to gather 21 samples from the water. It was then determined that Lake Erie accounted for the vast majority of plastic collected with nearly 1 million particles present.
While wastewater treatment plants are instrumental in keeping waters in New York clean, the current facilities would need major overhauls in order to remove microbeads. To make those changes taxpayers would have to foot the bill.
And so, officials say the Microbead-Free Waters Act is the most cost-effective approach to eliminating the toxins from waterways.
Since announcing the Act earlier this year, several major manufacturers, such as Proctor & Gamble, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive, have pledged to phase out use of plastic microbeads.
In February, L’Oréal said it would begin phasing out the materials this year in their Biotherm products and continue with Body Shop products in 2015. All of the company’s products are expected to be microbead-free by 2017.
“There is no greater gift we can give the next generation than protection of our waterways,” Congressman Brian Higgins, a member of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force, said in a news release
A.G. Schneiderman Releases Report Outlining Urgent Need To Pass Microbeads Ban [Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's Office]