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Environment & Climate Change

Michigan lags behind other states when it comes to banning micro-beads to protect Great Lakes

Microbeads on a penny.
Courtesy of The 5 Gyres Institute

Indiana lawmakers are getting closer to banning cosmetics containing tiny plastic particles that scientists say are polluting the Great Lakes. Illinois and New York already have.

You can find micro-beads in face scrubs, even toothpastes. They make up about 20 percent of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes, according to a recent study.

“There’s just no reason that these beads need to be in these products in the first place,” said Anna Cummins, executive director of 5 Gyres. The group is asking states to ban products with micro-beads.

Treatment plants can’t filter out the tiny, plastic beads, so they’re ultimately discharged into the Great Lakes.

A bill introduced in Lansing in 2013 died in the state House’s regulatory reform committee.

Supporters said the bill would take a proactive stance on the issue. There was little opposition since large manufacturers have already started substituting micro-beads with organic materials.

“They contain things like jojoba beads, or apricot kernel shells or coco beans. Really there are many different materials out there that will serve as an abrasive that won’t create this threat in our marine ecosystems,” Cummins said.

Her concern with the Indiana and Illinois bills is that they may allow companies a loophole by creating micro-beads out of biodegradable plastic.

“What we want to see is additives that don’t act as sponges for chemicals, that don’t persist indefinitely in the environment and that truly biodegrade,” she said.

Studies show micro-beads are showing up in fish that have been caught for human consumption.