The New York Attorney General is calling for a statewide ban on the use of “microbeads” in cosmetic and beauty products, and earlier this week released an environmental report, “Unseen Threat: How Microbeads Harm New York Waters, Wildlife, Health and Environment” (available in .pdf form here).
Though the report of course mentions problems specific to New York State, the general complaints are valid everywhere.
The problem with microbeads – minuscule balls of plastic used in exfoliating face creams – is that they never go away. They're non-biodegradeable, so they won't break down. They're small enough to slip through filters at wastewater-treatment plants, which mean they ultimately end up going back into public water supplies, or in lakes and oceans. There, they can easily absorb or become coated with toxins, are ingested by fish and other animals, and thus might also play a role in concentrating toxins and introducing them into the food chain.
Microbeads also have many opponents overseas; the Dutch nonprofit Beat The Microbead promotes an “international campaign against microbeads in cosmetics.”
Even among the companies who might use them in their products, microbeads have few if any supporters. Many companies, including Unilever, Johnson and Johnson, L'Oreal and Colgate/Palmolive have already stated intentions to phase microbeads out of their products.