The California State Assembly recently passed legislation (A.B. 888) that would prohibit the use of microbeads in many personal care products as of January 1, 2020. If enacted into law, the ban would prohibit the use of both synthetic plastic and biodegradable plastic microbeads. Violators of the law would also face civil penalties not to exceed $2,500 per day. The proposal is now winding through the California Senate where similar legislation failed last year.

Microbeads are commonly found in facial scrubs, moisturizers and toothpaste, and environmentalists increasingly caution that because treatment plants cannot filter them, microbeads are contaminating waterways and marine environments in large concentrations. Among other things, environmental advocates further contend that microbeads are not only dangerous to the fish who ingest them, but potentially dangerous to people who consume those fish. Personal care product manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble have vowed to phase out microbeads from their formulations.

California would join Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, Indiana and Maryland, which have all enacted similar laws. But the California legislation raises the bar and is widely deemed the toughest microbead ban to date. Similar bills are pending in New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, and Oregon.

In March 2015, U.S. Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) introduced legislation (H.R. 1321) to ban synthetic plastic microbeads effective in January 2018. In addition to prohibiting the sale and distribution of microbead-containing personal care products, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 would establish a national standard to avoid a “patchwork of state laws.”

The U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) also issued a comprehensive June report about microplastics advocating collaboration among all stakeholders to address their alleged risks and decrease their influx into the environment.