The US bans soaps, body washes, and toothpastes containing a harmful ingredient

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How Microbeads Are Hurting the Environment

The US just approved a bill banning soaps, toothpastes, and body washes that contain tiny plastic particles called microbeads.

Earlier in December, the House of Representatives passed a bill phasing out the environmentally harmful beads beginning July 1, 2017. On Monday, President Obama signed it into law.

The problem with microbeads is simple: They don't dissolve, instead entering water streams by the billions.

California's State Assembly approved a measure to ban the beads, which are touted by big companies as skin exfoliators, this summer.

In New York State alone, 19 tons of microbeads are washed down the drain each year, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, where they collect harmful pollutants like DDT. In waterways, fish and other wildlife mistake the tiny scraps of plastic for food. From there, the beads are integrated into the food chain.

See more on the discussions to ban microbeads:

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Microbeads harming the environment - face washes, soaps
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The US bans soaps, body washes, and toothpastes containing a harmful ingredient
Democratic lawmakers, from left, Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, of Stockton, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, of Santa Monica, and Sen. Ben Hueso, of San Diego, discuss amendment to Blooms measure to phase out the use of microscopic beads in personal care products in California, to Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif. The Senate approved Bloom's bill, after amendments were made to the bill that prompted many manufacturers and other business critics to drop their opposition.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Womans hand holding a facial scrub product with Plastic microbeads
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, right, is congratulated by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, after his measure to phase out the use of microscopic beads in personal care products in California was approved by the Senate, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
In this Feb. 6, 2015, photo Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, speaks during a legislative hearing in Denver. A Colorado bill to ban the microbeads by 2020 has won preliminary approval in the House and faces a final vote before heading to the Senate. The "microbeads" turn up in face scrubs, acne treatments and toothpaste. Primavera is the sponsor of the bill. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, left, takes a picture of the votes being posted for his measure to phase out the use of microscopic beads in personal care products in California, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif. At right is Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who carried the bill in the Senate. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
State Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, was one of several Republican lawmakers to argue against a measure by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica that would phase out the use of microscopic beads in personal care products in California, during the Senate session at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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"Microbeads are highly damaging to the natural environment and the wildlife that live there. Because natural alternatives already exist, a ban on their use in personal care products makes perfect sense," the Wildlife Conservation Society says in a press release.

A 2013 study found as many as 1.7 million of the tiny plastic particles per square kilometer in Lake Erie, one of the bodies of water in the Great Lakes Region where many of our debris end up.

Because they're so small, microbeads don't get filtered out by wastewater treatment plants. Instead, they get discharged directly into rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

There, fish, turtles, and other aquatic wildlife feed on the tiny bits of plastic, which to them are often indistinguishable from food. But rather than simply getting eaten and discharged by the animals, the microbeads become lodged in the animals' stomachs or intestines. When this happens, the animals often stop eating and die of starvation or suffer other health problems.

Gyres plastic microbead detailClean & Clear

"We have the evidence that the micro plastics do cause harm," Marcus Eriksen, executive director of the 5 Gyres Institute, a research group that led the 2013 study, told Scientific American. "I am hoping we can translate that research into some positive action."

Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble have all made pledges to phase out the most common kind of microbead from products.

The International Campaign Against Microbeads in Cosmetics has compiled a helpful list of the products that likely contain microbeads.

Here are the products:

products with microbeadsClean & Clearproducts with microbeadsClean & Clearproducts with microbeadsClean & Clear

products that contain microbeadsClean & Clear

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