Last August, I was honored to be joined by Erie County legislators, environmental agencies and advocates, and concerned residents on the shores of Lake Erie to sign legislation into law that bans the sale of products containing microbeads in Erie County. Microbeads are very tiny bits of plastic added to many personal care and cosmetic products that are so small they cannot be removed from our water by water treatment facilities. As a result, they accumulate in our bodies of water, as well as in the bodies of fish and other aquatic life. This can poison not only the fish and other aquatic life ingesting these bits of plastic but also all other living organisms that depend on our waterways for sustenance – including our own residents who often eat what they have caught in our waterways.
I am pleased to say today that Erie County’s proactive approach to this toxic issue, the first such ban passed in New York, has since been embraced by other counties including Albany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Tompkins, and Suffolk who have passed their own bans on microbeads. On a larger scale, while the New York State Legislature chose not to act on the microbead issue it was pursued at the federal level in an effort spearheaded by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, with a resulting federal ban on microbeads set to go into effect in July 2017. The federal law is very similar to Erie County’s law. Our local law will sunset once the federal ban goes into effect, but until that time it will remain the only barrier between these toxic plastic bits and our precious waterways.
Research has shown that one personal care product can contain over 300,000 microbeads, and also indicates that Lake Erie and Lake Ontario have the highest concentrations of these plastic particles among all the Great Lakes. Once microbeads enter the environment there is no known way to remove them. Microbeads are not biodegradeable and find their way into the food chain when fish, turtles, and birds mistakenly consume them. With tons of these particles entering our waterways annually, there was no time to waste in moving to protect our environmental legacy. I am proud that Erie County led the way in getting the job done.
Locally, the ban on products containing microbeads is set to go into effect in mid-February. Residents should note there are comparable personal care and cosmetic products containing natural materials like ground almonds, pumice, and oatmeal that provide the same effects as products containing synthetic plastic microbeads. These natural products will still be available after the ban goes into effect. You can play a role in ensuring that our waterways are clean. Consumers are encouraged to check the labels of the shampoo, toothpaste, facial cleanser, and soaps they purchase to ensure that they are microbead-free, and to report any violations of the law to firstname.lastname@example.org. Working together we will create a better, cleaner tomorrow for our community.