Campaign to Ban Plastic Microbeads

From Science to Solutions

5 Gyres’ Great Lakes research in 2012 documented evidence of high levels of microplastic particles – many of which were plastic microbeads commonly found in personal care products as an exfoliant. Products like facial scrubs, soaps and toothpaste contain thousands of polyethylene and polypropylene micro-plastic particles. A single tube of Neutrogena’s “Deep Clean” contains on average 360,000 plastic microbeads. These beads, designed to be washed down the drain can escape sewage treatment, absorb toxins and enter the food web.

In response 5 Gyres has mobilized an active community of concerned citizens to demand a response from manufacturers using plastic microbeads in their products. Our “Ban The Bead campaign resulted in a tremendous victory – five major manufacturers, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, The Body Shop and L’Oreal agreed to phase out plastic microbeads by 2015/2017. However 5 Gyres recognized a need for more a systematic, timely solution, and therefore developed a plan to ban the sale of products with plastic microbeads outright.

Last February, 5 Gyres orchestrated a legislative effort to ban microbeads with The New York State Attorney General and then 72 hours later, in California with Assembly-member Richard Bloom. Tactically, we knew that this bicoastal approach would create a media storm, elevating the issue to public discourse. We succeeded. The “Microbead Free Waters Act” has since been introduced in California, Minnesota, and is being considered by other state legislatures, and in other countries—Australia, Canada, and The European Union.

The goals for the Plastic Microbeads Campaign are:

  • Raise public awareness about the watershed threats from plastic microbead-containing products;
  • Engage citizens to avoid products with plastic microbeads and take action to stem the flow of plastic pollutants into watersheds and oceans; and
  • Inform citizens to support initiatives that prevent plastic microbeads from contaminating our water systems.
  • Eliminate plastic microbeads from commerce within four years.

5 Gyres campaign includes a youth education component, designing curriculum for classroom educators to engage students in understanding the environmental and potential health issues related to the use of plastic microbeads in products. Secondly, we are mounting a grassroots organizing initiative targeting California, Hawaii, and Vermont in 2015 to pass legislation. Thirdly, there will be a citizen science effort to train 5 Gyres ambassadors to gather data to serve as evidence of the problem, and drive media and education of policymakers. We believe this three-pronged approach will solve the microbead pollution problem with a metric conservation outcome.