No More Microbeads

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On December 28, President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, marking a major victory for clean water and NACWA. The law bans the manufacture of rinse-off cosmetic products containing plastic microbeads after July 1, 2017, and prohibits the sale of these products after July 1, 2018.

NACWA strongly supported the legislation banning microbeads as part of its Toilets Are Not Trashcans campaign, which focuses on keeping inappropriate products and unnecessary product additives out of sewer systems to protect water quality and the pipes, pumps, plants, and personnel of the nation’s wastewater utilities.

Plastic microbeads are used as in personal care products, including skin cleaners and toothpaste. However, microbeads have caused concern among clean water advocates because they are difficult to remove during typical wastewater treatment processes and can pass through treatment plants and into waterways, causing harm to aquatic life and ecosystems. Natural alternatives can be easily substituted for plastic microbeads in cleansing and exfoliating products to eliminate microbead pollution at its source.

Many major personal care product manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to phase out plastic microbeads and many states and counties had already passed or considered bans on products containing microbeads. The federal ban will ensure that all U.S. waters are protected from microbead pollution, and on a more aggressive schedule than many of the state and local laws. The federal law also includes “biodegradable” plastic microbeads in the ban, eliminating a loophole found in some state laws that only banned “synthetic” plastic microbeads.

Through the Toilets Are Not Trashcans campaign, NACWA will continue its advocacy to reduce harmful products that are flushed or drained into the sewer system. In addition to supporting the federal legislation to ban microbeads, NACWA has focused on non-dispersible products, such as wipes, as well as potentially harmful ingredients in consumer products.  NACWA has also supported regulatory changes to ensure the proper disposal of unused pharmaceuticals, eliminate the antibacterial agent triclosan from soaps and other personal care products, and ensure the safety of approved nanomaterials for utilities and the aquatic environment.

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