WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a bill that phases out and eventually bans the use of microbeads in cosmetic and personal-cleansing products that were hurting the environment.

The legislation, dubbed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, was passed by unanimous consent on Friday as Congress was set to adjourn for the year. The House passed the bill earlier this month and it will now go to President Obama for his signature.

The bill would ban the manufacturing of cosmetics products containing plastic microbeads effective July 1, 2017.

Lawmakers said the small bits of plastics, or beads, are regularly used as exfoliants in personal-care products such as face wash, soap and toothpaste. They can pass through water treatment systems after they are washed down drains and end up contaminating local streams, rivers and even larger bodies of water.

Lezlee Westine, president and chief executive officer of the Personal Care Products Council, said,  “We applaud today’s U.S. Senate passage of the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which creates a planned and pragmatic national phase-out process in the interest of both consumers and the personal-care products and cosmetics industry.”

Westine said the industry is prepared to fully phase out solid plastic microbeads in personal cleansing products. She said the Senate bill is “aimed at the proliferation of conflicting state and local restrictions that create unnecessary disruption and confusion for both consumers and companies.”

She noted that companies use the microbeads in products because they provide safe and effective exfoliating properties, but after research of the plastic beads, which are also in many types of industrial products, found that they contribute to plastic debris found in waterways, his members “voluntarily committed to replace solid plastic microbeads.”
Research conducted by the State University of New York in Fredonia in 2012 and 2013 found microplastic fragments reaching as high as 1.1 million per square kilometers in the Great Lakes. Separately, research from the New York Attorney General’s office found that 74 percent of sewage treatment plants in the study were unable to filter out plastic microbeads, according to the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
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