Illinois becomes first in the nation to ban microbeads

Natural alternatives exist to tiny plastic spheres that exfoliate but could harm aquatic ecosystems

041614 br 0162FSPRINGFIELD – State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago 7th) thanked her allies in the environmental movement for their persistence and the personal care industry for its cooperation as Illinois became the first state in the nation to ban non-biodegradable “microbeads” that threaten Great Lakes ecosystems. Governor Quinn signed legislation Steans sponsored to phase out the manufacture of microbeads in Illinois by 2017 and their sale by 2018.

“Lake Michigan is a critically important natural resource for our state, and its health affects recreation, tourism and the flourishing of aquatic plant and animal species,” Steans said. “I’m proud that Illinois is an environmental leader, taking the first step away from plastic microbeads toward natural exfoliants, and 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.”

Microbeads, which measure less than five millimeters across, are so tiny they often slip through water treatment systems and end up in lakes and rivers, where aquatic animals ingest them. Ongoing research suggests the non-biodegradable spheres may also absorb toxins along the way, adding to the threat to fish and possibly to the humans who catch and eat them. Often labeled as polyethylene or polypropylene, they are common ingredients in facial cleansers and scrubs, soaps and even toothpastes.

The trail-blazing ban became law thanks to the efforts of the Illinois Environmental Council, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, all of which worked with Steans to draw attention to new research showing high concentrations of microbeads in parts of the Great Lakes.

The new law prohibits the manufacture of personal care products containing microbeads starting December 31, 2017. Beginning December 31, 2018, their sale will be prohibited. (Microbead-containing toothpastes may still be sold at retail until 2019 because of the lengthy FDA approval process required for new toothpaste ingredients.)

Personal care product manufacturers have already tested and are using natural substitutes, such as apricot seeds, sand and cocoa beans, that have exfoliating and abrasive properties but are environmentally responsible.

Senator Heather Steans


7th District

Years served: 2008 - Present

Committee assignments: Appropriations I (Chairperson); Appropriations II; Environment and Conservation; Executive Appointments; Executive; Government Accountability/Pensions; Human Services; Oversight Medicaid Mang. Care, Spec (Chairperson); Subcommittee on Special Issues (HS) (Sub-Chairperson).

Biography: Born May 8, 1963, in Lake Forest, IL; B.A. in Urban Studies from Princeton; M.A. in Public Policy from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government; former budget director, WI Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations and former strategic planner, Chicago Public Schools; married (husband, Leo Smith) with three children.

Associated Representatives:
Kelly M. Cassidy
Gregory Harris