While the state of New York is still considering legislation, Erie County decided to take it upon themselves to ban the sale of personal care products containing microbeads. Microbeads are tiny plastic spheres only millimeters in diameter that are added to personal care products like face washes, soaps, and toothpastes as exfoliants. They are designed to be rinsed down the drain, yet are too small to be captured by wastewater treatment plants and pass directly into local waterways and eventually to sea. Once in the marine environment they don't biodegrade but rather attract persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs that are known to be toxic. They are consumed by local marine organisms that mistake them for food posing a health risk not only to wildlife, but to the humans that consume them as well.
New Yorkers wash more than 19 tons of microbeads down the drain every year, and officials say that Erie County contributes 1,700 pounds of that. An April 2015 report released by the Attorney General's office found microbeads present in 74% of water samples taken from 34 municipal and private treatment plants across New York State. They have been found in large bodies of water across the state including Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes in which they were discovered. The Great Lakes represent 20% of the world's fresh surface water and supply drinking water to millions of people.
Erie County is the first municipality in New York to pass this type of ban. It will take effect in January so stores have until then to remove products containing microbeads from their shelves. There was a public hearing today to inform residents and business owners of the ban and outline it's effects. The ban is one of the most comprehensive in the nation in that it doesn't include "biodegradable" microbeads as an alternative since that term is poorly defined and loosely regulated. AB 888 is Califonia's proposed microbeads ban that CAW is working hard to get passed and will also not allow for such a loophole.
Learn more about AB 888 and what you can do here.
Read about Erie County here.