WASHINGTON — The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved  a bill, which is backed by the personal care products industry, that seeks to phase out and ban the use of microbeads in cosmetic and personal-cleansing products to help mitigate their impact on the environment.

The committee on Wednesday approved the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, co-sponsored by Chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D., N.J.), the ranking member of the committee. The legislation could next go to the House floor for a vote.

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

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, which 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.

“Our bill to ban microbeads in personal-care products is a bipartisan and common-sense step forward to protect the environment,” said Pallone. “Most people buying these everyday products are unaware of the damaging effects they are having on the environment. However, they are being washed down the drain and reaching our waterways, so we must make sure that these soaps and toothpastes don’t contain synthetic plastic that will ultimately contaminate our environment.”

Lezlee Westine, president and chief executive officer of the Personal Care Products Council, lauded the approval of the bipartisan legislation.

Westine said passage of the bill in committee “is a positive step forward that sets the stage for achieving a unified, national approach to the phase-out of solid plastic microbeads in personal-care products.”

“The cosmetics and personal-care industry is proud to be part of that process and we are prepared to fully phase out solid plastic microbeads in personal-cleansing products by July 1, 2017,” Westine said. The council represents more than 600 members in the global cosmetic and personal care products industry.

He noted that the legislation brought together a wide range of stakeholders “to drive consensus on the best plan of action.”

“This important legislation would create a pragmatic phase-out process by establishing a national policy aimed at the proliferation of conflicting state and local restrictions that threaten to cause unnecessary disruption for businesses and consumers alike,” Westine said.

Westine said companies used the microbeads in products because they provided safe and effective exfoliating properties but after research of the plastic beads, which are found 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 in favor of other viable alternatives.”

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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