Bill to ban microbeads advances

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

The Wisconsin Senate has advanced legislation aimed at protecting the Great Lakes by scrubbing out personal care products containing microbeads.

The bill — introduced by Republican state Sens. Rob Cowles and Mary Czaja — passed by unanimous voice vote in the Senate, and, as WiG went to press, was awaiting consideration in the Assembly.

The measure would stop the manufacture and stocking for sale of personal care products that contain microbeads, tiny plastic bits found in body scrubs and toothpastes that get rinsed down the drain, wash through water treatment systems and reach Wisconsin waters. 

One bottle of facial scrub with microbeads can contain more than 300,000 plastic particles. These particles do not quickly break down. Instead, they contaminate water and can be ingested by fish and other wildlife.

Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy group, says the chemicals in the plastic or soaked up by the microbeads can cause much greater concentrations of chemicals in animals higher up the food chain.

“It’s imperative that we do all we can to protect our waters and reduce the use of unnecessary microbeads,” said Tyson Cook, Clean Wisconsin director of science and research.

He praised bipartisan support for the bill. 

Other proponents include the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, which issued a statement encouraging members to contact lawmakers in support of the bill. The league’s action notice warned that microbeads “absorb pollutants such as DDT and PCBs, posing a risk to fish communities and human health when they are ingested.”

Wisconsin would join Illinois, New Jersey and several other states that are currently considering banning the beads. Many of the largest personal care companies have already agreed to phase out their use.