State rep. introduces microbeads bill to protect Michigan waterways

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published March 18, 2015

FARMINGTON HILLS — State Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, has introduced a bill that would remove microbeads — one of many small pieces of polyethylene used in face scrubs and other items — from personal care products.

The microbeads pollute Michigan’s waterways, she said.

House Bill 4287 aims to phase out the manufacture and sale of the plastic particles.

From facial scrubs and toothpastes to soaps and hand sanitizers, thousands of products contain the minuscule balls of plastic — also called microplastics — instead of traditional, biodegradable alternatives, such as ground nut shells and salt crystals, she said.

“We need to be good stewards of our environment,” Greig said. “I very strongly believe we have to protect it. Here we have the Great Lakes — it has to be top priority.”

A scientific study conducted across 21 open water locations in the Great Lakes showed a huge amount of microbeads in the water system, according to a press release. 

The study, conducted by Marcus Eriksen, tested 21 various open water locations. Eriksen is the co-founder of the Los Angeles-based 5 Gyres Institute, which has a mission to engage people in design and policy solutions to end the global health crisis of plastic pollution.

“As municipal wastewater treatment systems are unable to filter out the tiny particles, they end up in lakes, rivers, streams and, ultimately, the Great Lakes and seaways,” the release stated.

The study shows how microbeads threaten the environment and the economy of Michigan in particular, as aquatic animals are absorbing the microbeads into their gills and digestive systems.

James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, said the council has, for a long time, been watching the health of the Great Lakes.

“Once we started hearing the research that came out that kind of questioned the potential impact the beads were having, we became very concerned,” Clift said.

He added that research so far notes that “at a minimum,” the microbeads will make different species think they are eating food.

“They’ll feel full, but they are not getting any nutritional benefit from it, and that impacts the health of the species,” Clift said. “And there might be some chemicals involved that are impacting other aquatic species. We hope the bill is adopted by both Michigan and the Great Lakes states and provinces so we get them out of the ecosystem.”

According to the press release, the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission has passed a resolution calling for legislative action from Great Lakes states, and Illinois has passed similar legislation. The measures passed in Illinois are being reviewed by other Great Lakes states, including Wisconsin and Indiana.

Conservation and outdoor sportsmen’s organizations have also called for legislative action to end the use of microbeads.

“I am looking forward to the bill receiving a hearing,” said Dennis Eade, executive director of the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association, in a press release. “Our members are concerned that microbeads can serve as a pathway for dangerous pollutants to enter the food web and contaminate fish in our lakes, rivers and streams. I believe that the testimony my members can share will reinforce the need for this legislation.”

According to www.plasticsnews.com, Procter & Gamble Co., the makers of Crest toothpastes, will remove microbeads from its dental products by March 2016.

A number of other major U.S. companies have stepped forward to get the ball rolling on removing microbeads from products, including exfoliating facial and body washes.

Unilever, The Body Shop and Johnson & Johnson have agreed to remove microbeads from their scrubs and body washes by the end of 2015, according to the press release.

“We applaud the outstanding stewardship shown by our business leaders and believe that this legislation will ensure that the remaining companies, often offshore, share in the responsibility,” Greig said in the press release.

Joelle Hutcheon — Unilever Digital Media Relations associate for corporate public relations and media relations, North America — said in an emailed statement that Unilever phased out microbeads in its products in 2014.

“Globally, we completed the phase-out by Jan. 1. Unilever decided to phase out plastic scrub beads from personal care products because we believed we could provide consumers with products that deliver a similar exfoliating performance without the need to use plastics.”

The Beauty Shop, Aveeno, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble representatives did not respond by press time.

For more information, visit housedems.com/state-rep-christine-greig.