Plastic microbeads (sometimes written as “micro beads”) are a category of microplastics. They are most commonly used in personal care products as cleansers and exfoliants. Microbeads have been added to some facial scrubs and body washes because of the great scrubbing power they contribute. Unfortunately, most waste water management systems aren’t able to filter them so they can end up in the environment.
Microbeads are generally very, very small—and are sometimes even difficult to see. Microbeads also are often wrongly confused with plastic pellets, which are the basic form of plastic raw materials used in manufacturing, and are generally in the shape of a cylinder or disk, and around 2-3 millimeters in size.
Many personal care product companies are voluntarily phasing out the use of microbeads in their products.
In 2015, the United States congress passed the “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015” into law, which phases out solid plastic microbeads used in rinse-off personal care products, ensuring a sensible national standard.
In 2014, Illinois became the first U.S. state to enact legislation banning the manufacture and sale of products containing microbeads.