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State Governments, Major Companies Rally to Ban Environmentally-Damaging Microbeads

After Illinois became the first state to ban environmentally-damaging microbeads from popular cosmetics, other states and major companies have jumped on board.

Microbeads, or small plastic particles the size of a pin head, were widely used as an exfoliant in skincare products and cosmetics. According to environmental researchers, microbeads permanently settle on ocean, river and lake floors after being washed down drainage systems.

Because of the composition of the microbeads, impacts from using one facial scrub containing the tiny plastics can last up to 1,000 years.

"Plastic never disappears," Janna Selier, database manager for the Plastic Soup Foundation, said.

"These plastic bits have been found in organisms ranging in size from small invertebrates to large mammals and are known to concentrate persistent toxic chemicals already present in sea water," Selier said.

As more research is conducted and agencies such as the United Nations Environment Program and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration condemn the ingredient, state governments have taken notice of the ensuing, lasting damage such products can have.

Illinois passed legislature in 2014 banning products with microbeads starting in 2018. Wisconsin, Maine and Colorado have followed suit with other states like Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Ohio working on similar laws.

With rising awareness and anti-microbead campaigns such as Beat the Microbead gaining traction, major companies like Johnson & Johnson are phasing the harmful ingredient out of products.

According to a press release, Johnson & Johnson expects all of their products to be microbead-free in 2017.

"We have stopped developing new products containing polyethylene microbeads and have been conducting environmental safety assessments of other alternatives," the company wrote.

As for products still being circulated, Selier said the main ingredient to look for is polyethylene, but products containing polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethyl methacrylate and nylon should also be cause for concern.

"Microplastics have now been documented in all five of the ocean's subtropical gyres," Selier said. Plastics have traveled to remote places as far as the Arctic Sea, lodging into arctic ice thousands of miles away from land.