The Illinois Senate has approved, in a 54-0 vote, a bill (S.B. 2727) that would ban the use of microbeads—tiny, non-biodegradable plastic particles often added to body cleansers, facial scrubs and toothpastes—by the end of 2018. Considered an increasing environmental threat because they slip through sewage system filters and end up in rivers and lakes, the particles can apparently absorb toxic chemicals already commonly found in such waterways and pose a hazard to fish and other wildlife that mistake them for food or otherwise absorb them. Research also indicates that microbeads can pollute soil if particles running through water treatment facilities get into sewage sludge, which is often used as fertilizer.

The Illinois measure would prohibit the manufacture of microbeads effective December 31, 2017, and the sale of such products would be prohibited as of December 31, 2018. States surrounding the Great Lakes and some coastal states, such as New York and California, have considered similar bans, and lawmakers note that the Illinois legislation could serve as an example for those states because it gives the industry a few years to develop substitutes— including natural alternatives such as ground seeds, nuts, sugar, and salt—and allows retailers to sell current inventory.

According to industry sources, many leading cosmetic companies and industry groups, including the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) consider the Illinois law fair and say it offers manufacturers sufficient time to change their products. “We believe that the 2017 deadline is one that we can meet with little marketplace disruptions for consumers,” said PCPC spokesperson Lisa Powers. While waiting more than four years before the ban on sales takes effect irks some environmentalists, industry representatives counter that the process of switching to alternative materials is time-consuming and complicated, involving substance testing, clinical studies, customer surveys, and product redesign. See ABCLocal.go.com, April 16, 2014; LancasterOnline.com, April 27, 2014.

In a related development, the Tucson, Arizona-based Desert Whale Jojoba Co. has reportedly developed a biodegradable, natural-based alternative to microbeads created from a combination of castor oil and jojoba oil. According to a news source, the formulation is gentle enough to be used daily and can be customized to fit a variety of skincare product requirements. See Cosmetics- Design-USA.com, April 24, 2014.