Maryland Bans Microbeads!

ANNAPOLIS (May 12, 2015)—Today Governor Larry Hogan signed into law HB 216, banning plastic microbeads as an ingredient in personal care products in Maryland. The law, sponsored by Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), requires manufacturers to phase out the use of plastic microbeads in 2018 and bans the sale of products containing them at the end of 2019. These changes effectively require manufacturers to use natural alternatives like oatmeal, apricot stones, salt, and rice.

Microbeads can be found in everything from facial scrubs and soap to toothpaste and makeup and are listed on ingredient labels under their material names of polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate or polymethyl methacrylate. The beads, used to exfoliate dry skin or add color to products, are too small to be captured in most wastewater treatment plants and instead are released into rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Due to their chemical makeup, they attract other petroleum-based chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers, becoming as much as one million times more toxic than the water around them.

“Our samples of the Chesapeake Bay found numerous microbeads floating at the surface. Given their size, we can only imagine how many are eaten by fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life, and even end up on Marylanders’ dinner plates,” said Julie Lawson, director of Trash Free Maryland, which championed and co-authored the final bill. “We shouldn’t be washing our faces and brushing our teeth with plastic, and we certainly shouldn’t be washing plastic down the drain to pollute our waters.”

Similar bans arose in other states in 2014, particularly after researchers found alarmingly high concentrations of microbeads in the Great Lakes. Illinois and New Jersey passed bans last year, but with loopholes for so-called biodegradable plastics like polylactic acid (PLA). Unfortunately PLA only biodegrades at extremely high heat, not in the cool temperatures of the water.

With the agreement of the Personal Care Products Council, Maryland’s ban effectively closes this loophole. The law requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to establish regulations so that alternative exfoliants meet international standards to biodegrade in wastewater treatment plants and the marine environment, and for MDE to review the regulations periodically to ensure the strongest, most relevant standards are in effect.

“This bill is a big win for Maryland, but it is also a major step toward a nationwide shift in how these products are designed,” said Stiv Wilson, campaigns director for The Story of Stuff Project and creator of the national effort to ban microbeads. “We are creating structural and transformative change on how we use plastic particles in commerce.”

Last week The Story of Stuff Project released a two-minute “explainer” film on microbeads:

“We still have a few years before these products are off store shelves,” added Lawson. “Our next step is to educate consumers about the problem and that alternatives are already readily available.”

The campaign extends its thanks to sponsors Delegate Dan Morhaim and Senator Joan Carter Conway, as well as champions Chairman Kumar Barve, Delegates Clarence Lam, Steve Lafferty, Jim Gilchrist, and David Fraser-Hidalgo, and Senators Paul Pinsky and Karen Montgomery for their leadership.

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Trash Free Maryland is the leading advocate for public policies to reduce trash pollution in the state. We work toward a state of Maryland that is free of trash, debris, and litter, where communities, public spaces, and waterways are safe, healthy, and support economic viability.

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