"Microbeads" are synthetic microspheres widely used in cosmetics, skin care and personal care products, which are added as exfoliating agents.  Public interest groups have expressed concern that, because wastewater systems may be unable to filter microbeads from effluent released into public waterways, microbeads are entering the marine food chain.  This week, the Minnesota House and Senate each passed bills that would ban the manufacture and sale of products containing plastic microbeads. 

Both bills contain the same phased timeline:

  • Effective December 31, 2018, no one can sell personal care products containing synthetic plastic microbeads, but persons can continue selling over-the-counter drugs containing synthetic plastic microbeads.  However, that same day, no one can manufacture for sale over-the-counter drugs that contains synthetic plastic microbeads. 
  • Effective December 31, 2019, no one can sell over-the-counter drugs containing synthetic plastic microbeads.

The bills differ with respect to an exemption, which the Senate Bill (No. 674) contains, but the House Bill (No. 846) does not.  The Senate Bill would allow individuals and businesses to petition the commissioner of the Pollution Control Agency for an exemption from the above prohibitions.  The commissioner could grant the petition “only if the person seeking the exemption provides clear and convincing evidence that the synthetic plastic microbeads contained in a personal care product or over-the-counter drug completely break down within two weeks in a natural aquatic environment in Minnesota.”

According to a news story about the bills’ passage, the bills are headed to a conference committee to address the differences between the two bills.  It will be interesting to see whether the exemption will survive.  But, in light of the increasing momentum in several states to ban plastic microbeads, including the ban in force in Illinois, such an exemption may in fact provide little relief for manufacturers, who likely would manufacture one product version that achieves compliance nationwide.

The Senate Bill is available here, and the House Bill is available here.