Plastic microbeads are designed to be washed down the drain but are too small to be reliably captured by wastewater treatment facilities. According to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, one tube of exfoliating facewash can contain more than 350,000 microbeads, and it is estimated that 2.9 trillion microbeads enter U.S. waterways annually.
However, President Obama signed into law the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 on Dec. 28. The new law phases out the manufacture of personal care products containing plastic microbeads by July 1, 2017 and the sale of such beauty products by July 1, 2018. The law, introduced by representatives Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), bans all plastic microbeads from beauty products. This includes microbeads made from biodegradable plastics, most of which just break into smaller plastic particles within marine environments.
Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives unanimously approved H.R. 1321 earlier in December.