Water/Wastewater

  • Why Did Obama Ban Microbeads?

Why Did Obama Ban Microbeads?

Feb 05 2016 Read 1944 Times

Earlier this year, President Obama signed off on a bill which prohibits the inclusion of microbeads in soaps, facial lotions and toothpastes, among a range of other personal care problems. The ban will come into effect on July 1st of 2017, preventing all companies from manufacturing such products containing microbeads from that date. The retail of such products that have already been created will be tolerated until 2019, when that too will become illegal.

But what exactly are microbeads? Why are they so harmful to our environment?

Size Matters

Microbeads are tiny particles of plastic which are found in personal care products. This is because their diminutive size makes them abrasive without being painful, allowing them to act as a sort of tiny scrubbing brush, useful in wiping away dirt or bacteria that has become ingrained in teeth, hair or skin.

However, these particles are so small that they are virtually impossible to filter out of wastewater effluent, despite the most modern technological methods. This means they enter into waterways and eventually into the sea, where they can be mistaken by fish, birds and other marine life as food. In fact, 9 out of 10 seabirds consume plastics, according to a recent study undertaken by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia.

Once ingested, this plastic can severely damage the internal organs of animals due to becoming lodged in their intestines. This can cause a variety of health problems, with it even leading to death due to starvation, since food cannot pass through their stomachs properly. The fact that it’s almost impossible for microbeads to dissolve naturally means that this is not a problem that will be going away anytime soon, either.

A Natural Solution

“Microbeads are highly damaging to the natural environment and the wildlife that live there,” explained a press release by the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Because natural alternatives already exist, a ban on their use in personal care products makes perfect sense.”

Several US states had already enacted similar legislation and many of the larger personal care companies in the United States have already pledged to phase out the harmful contaminants, including Johnson and Johnson, L’Oreal and Colgate. However, the fact that the Microbead Free Waters Act has been signed into law by President Obama makes it all the more official and will force everyone to comply with it – in the US. In the UK, they are still perfectly legal.

The problem caused by microbeads has not achieved similar levels of exposure in the media here in Britain, which means that normally environmentally-conscious consumers are not aware of its existence in the first place. The fact that natural alternatives already exist (but are neglected by companies due to their higher manufacturing costs) means that a similar ban in the UK is the only logical course of action.

Since a change in British law will only come about as a result of public outcry and appeal, let’s hope that the Microbead Free Waters Act in the United States will help to raise the profile of this harmful contaminant on home soil, as well.

Image Source: Mango Sparrow   

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