A picture of Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand
Kirsten G.
Democrat NY

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  • Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015

    by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand

    Posted on 2015-12-18

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    Read More about Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015

    GILLIBRAND. Mr. President, across the country, many State and local governments, including counties in New York, have moved to ban products that contain plastic microbeads.

    Because of their leadership and because of the advocacy from scientists and others who have shown us the damage that microbeads can do, Congress came together to unanimously ban plastic microbeads from rinse-off cosmetic products.

    This is a great bill, and it shows that we can pass smart environmental legislation here in Washington.

    Plastic microbeads are the tiny pieces of plastic that we often see in toothpaste, hand lotion, or various other personal care products.

    When we brush our teeth and wash our face, most of us don't consider these acts to be harmful in any way.

    But plastic microbeads are smaller than 5 millimeters in size, which means they are too small to be captured by the filtration systems in our water treatment centers.

    So these plastic microbeads end up leaching into our lakes, our rivers, our streams, our bays, and even our drinking water supplies.

    It might be surprising that a piece of plastic so small can cause such outsized damage.

    But we have heard from a wide range of constituents and business groups that all recognize the damage, and all recommended that Congress act to remove plastic microbeads from the marketplace.

    We have heard it from the fishing industry, from the tourism industry, from the culinary industry. Even the cosmetics industry is supportive of this ban. Many cosmetics companies have already voluntarily stopped using microbeads themselves.

    When tiny plastic microbeads get into the water, they attract pollutants that are already in the water, and they concentrate these pollutants to potentially dangerous levels.

    Fish don't know what microbeads are, so they eat them and end up ingesting all of the pollutants stuck on the microbeads.

    This disrupts the food chain, it contaminates huge portions of the wildlife population, and it hurts our commercial and recreational fishing industries, because they can't sell--and we can't eat--fish that are filled with toxic plastic.

    Many of our counties, cities, and States took the lead on this issue, and they should be commended for that. But local action isn't enough to solve a nationwide problem like this--not when so many communities in different States are connected by the same bodies of water--because no one is immune when our waterways are contaminated.

    Congress had a responsibility to act--to stop the flow of microbeads into our waterways.

    And today we are doing our job in passing this Federal ban on these products.

    The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 will prohibit the manufacture of rinse-off cosmetic products containing plastic microbeads starting in 2017 and will ensure that they are off retail shelves by 2018.

    And while this bill preempts States from regulating rinse-off products containing plastic microbeads differently from the Federal ban, individual States will still have the ability to restrict microbeads in other types of products.

    Additionally, the preemption language in this bill restricts their manufacture and distribution in interstate commerce and should not prevent States or local governments from regulating how microbeads are disposed of under laws such as the Clean Water Act.

    States can also co-enforce the Federal ban by enacting identical laws.

    This is a great bipartisan bill. And it is a smart step forward, as we look for new ways to protect our environment.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the bill be read a third time and passed, and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    The bill (H.R. 1321) was ordered to a third reading, was read the third time, and passed.


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