The state of Illinois has recently become the first state to ban the sale of personal care products containing synthetic plastics microbeads, most commonly found in skin exfoliants and soap. These microbeads are generally missed by most water treatment systems and end up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans. Studies from the waters of Lake Michigan have found millions of these microbeads piled up ready to become food for sea life. The new law signed by Gov. Quinn bans the manufacture of personal care products containing microbeads by the end of 2017, the sale of personal care products and the manufacture of over the-counter drugs containing them by the end of 2018, and the sale of those over-the-counter drugs by the end of 2019. Four other states, New York, Minnesota, Ohio, and California, are considering similar bans, with New York planning to eliminate microbeads by 2016.
Some of the largest personal care products companies have already put steps in place to eliminate microbeads from their products. Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and L'Oreal have posted information on their websites explaining their plans for gradually eliminating the scrub beads from their products and testing for natural alternatives, like ground seeds or nuts. Unilever says on its website that it plans to complete its phase-out of microbeads globally by 2015. For those consumers interested in moving away from microbead-containing products, they can identify those items by looking for polyethylene and polypropylene in the ingredient lists.