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State Takes Bold Stand Against Consumer Plastic Pollution

Illinois governor signs law banning the "microbeads" increasingly found polluting Great Lakes and other waterways.

This is from sample 21 in eastern Lake Erie, showing the relative size of microbeads. (Photo credit: 5 Gyres Institute)

In what many hope is the beginning of a "nationwide movement" against plastic pollution, Illinois on Sunday became the first state to sign a law banning plastic "microbeads."

Commonly found in personal care products, microbeads are miniscule plastic fragments that easily escape sewage filtration systems after being washed down the drain. Consequently, microbeads have been found to collect in high concentrations in our oceans, gulfs, lakes and rivers—posing a grave threat to wildlife.

“Banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow,” said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn after he signed the legislation.

The new law bans the manufacture of personal care products containing microbeads by the end of 2017 and prohibits the sale of such items by the end of 2019.

“I’m optimistic that we’ve started a nationwide movement to protect not just the Great Lakes, but other bodies of water with high concentrations of microbeads,” added State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, who co-sponsored the bill.

The ban is the first enacted after a landmark survey of the Great Lakes revealed an abundance of polyethylene and polypropylene beads of "similar size, shape, texture and composition" as those found in consumer products.

After being consumed by small fish and zooplankton, according to the study by the 5 Gyres Institute along with researchers from State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia, the microbeads absorb other toxic substances also found in the Great Lakes, which can then be carried into the food chain, threatening larger marine life and those who eat them, including humans and birds.

5 Gyres has led the lobby effort behind the new ban and at last four other states are currently considering similar legislation, including California and New York, which has a deadline of 2016 for eliminating the microbeads.

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