The New Jersey State Legislature has unanimously approved legislation to address the growing environmental concerns over personal care products containing microbeads, small non-biodegradable plastic particles used as abrasives in personal care products such as toothpaste. If enacted, New Jersey would become the second state after Illinois to ban the use of microbeads in consumer care products. Similar legislation is pending in New York, California, Michigan and Ohio.

The bill (A-3083) prohibits the production, manufacture and sale of all personal care products containing microbeads. Experts say these tiny plastic particles can slip through most water treatment systems, causing chemicals, pesticides and other toxins absorbed by the non-biodegradable microbeads to eventually end up in our local waterways. Microbeads covered with toxins also appear edible to fish that can enter our food chain.

The bill seeks to protect local waterways and marine life from enduring any potential harmful effects due to prolonged exposure to microbeads. This effort is among a larger national push to eliminate microbeads, which contribute a portion of the $13 billion in annual damage to marine ecosystems caused by plastic waste, according to a United Nations Environment Programme report. Supporters of the bill say there are ecologically friendly components that can replace microbeads. Indeed, some companies have already begun phasing out use of microbeads in their consumer care products.

The New Jersey bill is expected to come before the Governor’s Office in November 2014. If enacted, the bill’s prohibition against the production or manufacture of personal care products containing microbeads would commence January 1, 2018. The measure prohibits the sale, offer for sale or promotion of these items on or after January 1, 2019. In addition, no person will be permitted to sell, offer for sale or offer for promotion over-the-counter drugs containing synthetic plastic microbeads in the state beginning January 1, 2020.

This bill is not the only legislative effort to end the use of microbeads. The Microbead-Free Waters Act (a federal bill) was introduced before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce earlier this year. If enacted, it would impose a ban on microbeads within the same time frame laid out by the New Jersey bill.

Practice Pointer

The New Jersey bill is designed to give companies time to “sell through” the products they have already manufactured. Nonetheless, this law will have a major impact on companies throughout New Jersey. Companies that manufacture personal care products containing microbeads or other polyethylene components should review their production methods to ensure compliance with the law prior to January 1, 2018. These companies should also start looking for suitable alternatives to microbeads to help ensure continued production. Likewise, retailers of personal care products throughout New Jersey should review their sales operations to ensure compliance with the law prior to January 1, 2019. These companies should also review similar legislation pending in other states to ensure compliance with the law going forward.