ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York could become the first state in the nation to outlaw the sale of cosmetic products containing tiny plastic scrubbing beads that have been accumulating by the tens of millions in the Great Lakes.
The plastic particles can persist in the environment for centuries and accumulate toxic chemicals that could enter the food chain if marine creatures ingest them, said state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who proposed the legislation to be introduced on Tuesday.
The legislation was drafted by 5 Gyres Institute, a research organization dedicated to eliminating plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. The organization completed the first plastic pollution survey of the Great Lakes with the State University of New York at Fredonia.
Stiv Wilson, policy director of 5 Gyres, said the group expects similar legislation to be introduced in other Great Lakes states and California.
Microbeads are commonly found in more than 100 products, including facial scrubs, soaps and toothpaste. Because they’re so small and buoyant, the beads float out of sewage treatment plants into rivers.
Three leading cosmetic companies — Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive — have made commitments to phase out use of microbeads, which can be replaced by natural materials such as sea salt and ground pecan shells.
“Small plastics like microbeads pose a growing threat to many bird species that feed at the water’s surface,” said Erin Crotty, executive director of Audubon New York. “Many waterbirds mistake plastics for food — or are susceptible to bioaccumulation of plastic in the fish they eat — with detrimental effect, including decreased food absorption and starvation.”