Dan Corkery: Illinois becomes first state to ban 'microbeads'

Dan Corkery: Illinois becomes first state to ban 'microbeads'

I doubt any of us would consciously discard plastic into a body of water.

But some of us are doing exactly that and probably don't know it.

If you use a facial scrub with an exfoliant, it may contain tiny spheres of plastic called "microbeads." Once the soap is rinsed off into the sink or shower drain, those microbeads take on a new and unintended life.

If you think your local sewage treatment plant is filtering out microbeads — about one-hundreth of an inch in diameter — you'd be wrong.

"Our filters were not designed to get the smallest particles out," Bruce Rabe, lab supervisor for the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District, said recently.

Instead, microbeads are discharged along with the treated water and persist indefinitely in our creeks, rivers, lakes and oceans.

There, fish can mistake the tiny plastic balls for food. And thus, microbeads enter the food chain.

Further, the plastic bits tend to absorb toxic pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls, making them more insidious than just inert stuff clogging up a fish's guts.

Until recently, I was one of the polluters. Because my face is 56 going on 17, I was using a Neutrogena product to control my age-defying acne.

My curiosity about those tiny balls and recent news articles led me to give up that particular product and to revert to good old-fashion soap.

By January 2020, you won't find any soaps, toothpaste, makeup or skin conditioners that contain microbeads for sale in Illinois.

Earlier this month, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill sponsored by state Sen. Heather Steans and state Rep. Jaime Andrade Jr., both Chicago Democrats, that bans microbeads from the manufacturing of personal-care products, on Dec. 31, 2018. Retailers must stop selling those products a year later.

Illinois is the first state to ban microbeads; other states, such as California and New York, are considering similar bans.

Unlike most issues in Springfield, this bill cleared both chambers unanimously, probably because the makers of personal-care products — such as Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Procter & Gamble — have agreed to phase out microbeads.

By why wait until the end of the decade? As consumers, we can stop using these products now.

How can tell if your soap contains microbeads? Read the ingredients and look for polyethylene or polypropylene. Sometimes manufacturers use "microbeads" elsewhere on the container.

Dan Corkery, managing editor for administration, is a member of The News-Gazette's editorial board. His email is dcorkery@news-gazette.com.

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