New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and state Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney have unveiled a proposed law to prohibit the sale in the state of New York of cosmetic products that contain tiny plastic particles.

Less than 5 millimetres in size

Recent studies have found high levels of these plastic beads in the New York waters of Lake Erie, and revealed that most of the state’s waters were polluted. When products containing microbeads are used in the home, the beads are rinsed down the drain and into sewer systems. Because of their small size and buoyancy, microbeads escape treatment by sewage plants and are discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans. “From the Great Lakes to the Hudson River to Long Island Sound, our commitment to protecting and restoring New York’s waters is among our most important responsibilities,” Attorney General Schneiderman said.

The Microbead-Free Waters Act would prohibit the production, manufacture, distribution and sale in New York of any beauty product, cosmetic or other personal care product containing plastic particles less than 5 millimetres in size.

New York Microbead-Free Waters Act

California too

In California, Assemblymember Richard Bloom has introduced a bill on February 13, to ban the sale of personal care products that contain micro-plastic particles. According to the bill, cleaning or personal care products containing microplastics would be prohibited for sell on or after January 1, 2016.

California Waste management : microplastics

We have no choice but to eliminate this pollution at the source. Waiting will only compound the problem and the price of cleaning up,” said Bloom.

L’Oréal to phase out by 2017

In this context, L’Oréal has announced on February 12 its decision to no longer use microbeads of polyethylene in its scrubs by 2017. The phasing out will be first achieved for Biotherm (2014) and The Body Shop (2015) before being extended to all the Group’s portfolio in 2017.

“Since L’Oréal has been aware of possible concerns about the environmental impact of microbeads of polyetylene in its scrubs, the Group’s Research examined the issue and decided to gradually phase them out,” explains the French cosmetics manufacturer, which has a research laboratory dedicated to assessing the impact of its formulae on the marine environment since 1995.

However, L’Oréal adds that the phasing out of an ingredient is always a complex process. “It requires the analysis and identification of viable alternative(s) that can meet many criteria (including human and environmental safety, efficacy, sustainable sourcing of the raw material and overall costs).” In that case, the group says to be looking for natural alternatives, such as mineral particles or fruit seeds, that could provide for the same efficacy and safety as before.

Other cosmetic companies such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson have already announced their intention to remove plastic microbeads from their products.

Several non-government organizations are fighting against the microplastic beads through the “Beat the Microbead” campaign. Two Dutch environmental groups have launched an app in 2012 to help consumers identify products using the material. The United Nations Environment Program joined in last year to expand the app for international use beyond the Netherlands.