Lawmakers push for ban of plastic microbeads in personal care products

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There’s a proposal in the State Legislature that could ban something you probably have in your home.

Lawmakers are pushing to ban the manufacture and sale of personal care products that contain synthetic plastic microbeads, saying they’re harmful to marine life, possibly even carcinogenic.

And environmental groups take it one step further, saying these popular products could lead to cancer.

Facial scrubs, body wash, even toothpaste — check the labels of these popular products and, chances are, that exfoliating scrub you’re using contains the plastic polyethylene.

“Across the nation, there are products like these that are causing environmental damage,” said State Rep. Chris Lee (D, Kailua, Waimanalo).

Lee is pushing to have products with the plastic microbeads banned in Hawaii. According to the representative, the state’s sewage waste treatment facilities can’t filter out plastic microbeads out of the wastewater because of their size. So they often end up in the ocean.

“They end up on our beaches, being eaten by marine life, and causes a lot of problems,” he said.

Suzanne Frazer of the Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii said that the chemicals from these plastic microbeads are passed through the ocean food chain to humans, which could cause cancer.

And while BEACH supports House Bill 621, Frazer said it has loopholes. She feels the bill should not refer to plastics as “synthetic plastic microbeads.”

“Should this bill pass with no changes, it will allow for manufacturers to replace one plastic microbead with another,” she said.

When asked what he thought about BEACH’s proposed bill changes, Lee said “there’s a lot of concern some of these groups want an absolute ban on all things plastic which, in the long run, is probably a good thing. But right now, we need to be reasonable and attack this problem now, which manufacturers and environmentalists say is a real concern.”

If the bill passes, we’ll see a gradual phase-out of products containing plastic microbeads. The process will be over a four-year period, beginning December 2017.

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