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Microbeads Banned for Environmental Hazards

Next time you exfoliate, you may want to rethink your routine, especially if your facial cleanser contains microbeads. These little guys have just been officially banned with a new piece of legislation.

President Obama signed into law theThe Microbead-Free Waters Act on Dec. 28, 2015. The legislation is based on the dangers of plastic microbeads that can be found in facial masks and scrubs. The plastic fragments made from synthetic polymers are polluting aquatic ecosystems and wastewater treatment facilities.

“Fish are eating these beads because the microbeads look like food,” said Allison Vitt, outreach and communications coordinator for the Office of Sustainability in the University of Florida. “Hopefully the ecosystem will be able to reverse the impact and start to see an increasing decline in the water system.”

Companies will need to eliminate microbeads from their products by July 1, 2017, Vitt said.

“It’s a step in the right direction regarding the worldwide plastic pollution crisis,” said Florida Sustainables founder Ryan Martin.

Martin, who has a Ph.D in organic chemistry from UF, helped with the language in the original California bill to ban microbeads  He investigates the degradation of plastics with an emphasis on polymer chemistry.

Martin believes that all disposable plastics exist in a “pre-microbead” state. When plastic items such as bottles, straws or clothing fibers are exposed to environmental conditions, they become brittle and break into smaller and smaller pieces. They cause the same problem as microbeads on a grander scale, Martin said.

“Viewing all single-use plastic as pre-microbeads, the solution lies in our society shifting to a more robust collection-and-recycling infrastructure and in reducing consumption and disposability overall,” he said.

Instead of throwing out your products with microbeads, they can be sent to Martin at the UF Department of Chemistry Butler Polymer Research Labs to be used for science education or environmental awareness projects.

“I'm no environmentalist, but I am aware that there are so many beauty products out there that do directly harm the environment, so it isn't surprising to me that microbeads are joining that extensive list,” said UF senior Shelby Davidson, 21.

To support the ban on microbeads, you can download the Beat The Microbead app.  By scanning the barcode of cosmetics and toiletries, the app can tell you whether or not the item contains microbead particles. If in doubt, Vitt said there are plenty of alternatives to microbeads, such as apricot seeds, rice and bamboo particles.


Ashlyn is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.