The U.S. state of Wisconsin enacted a law that prohibits the use of polymer microbeads in cosmetic products as of 2018. The beads are commonly used in toothpaste, shower gels, peelings, and even fluids to clean contact lenses because their antichafing properties make them clean better.
However, the small pieces of plastic pass through clarification plants with almost no filters, ending up in rivers and, ultimately, the ocean. Because they are not biodegradable, they accumulate throughout the food chain. Leftover plastic has already been found in fish, seals, muscles, and crabs. And given that plastic also contains softeners, microbeads are suspected of having hormonal effects and causing cancer.
That’s why the German Environmental Agency (Umweltbundesamt: UBA) has warned of the risks of microbeads for the environment and in water for some time. According to the UBA, some 500 tons of these materials are used in cosmetics annually. Since 2013, the German Environmental Ministry has held conversations with manufacturers and manufacturing associations about a rapid end to the use of microbeads in cosmetics.
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The press release about the Wisconsin law is available here.