Baykeeper Update

California Legislature Passes Ban on Plastic Microbeads

In a win for a safer San Francisco Bay, the California Legislature recently passed a ban on the sale of consumer products containing plastic microbeads, starting in 2020. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill, AB 888, into law.

San Francisco Baykeeper advocated in support of this legislation, along with our environmental partners, including Clean Water Action and 5 Gyres. We also provided legal advice in the drafting of the legislation.

Microbeads are tiny particles of plastic used in facial scrubs, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, eyeliner, lip gloss, deodorant, and sunblock. When these products are washed down a sink or shower drain, they aren’t removed by treatment at a wastewater plant—so they enter San Francisco Bay, polluting the water and wildlife habitat.

A recent study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute and Baykeeper found that microbeads and other small particles of plastic are widespread in Central and South San Francisco Bay. Baykeeper helped conduct the study, collecting samples of Bay water from our pollution patrol boat.

Other research has found microbeads in the tissues of birds and marine mammals. Open water swimmers can also swallow microbeads. These small plastic particles accumulate other toxic pollutants, so in addition to the plastic itself, microbeads deliver exposure to more toxins.

The new California law bans the sale of products containing microbeads, including so-called “biodegradable plastic” microbeads, after 2020. However, in response to California’s ban and bans in other states, many companies are already considering alternatives to microbeads, and may replace plastics in their products before 2020.

In the meantime, you can help keep these tiny plastic pollution particles out of the Bay. Avoid any personal care product with an ingredient list that includes Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), or nylon. Safe alternative ingredients that provide scrubbing include ground apricot shells and cocoa beans. 

As California moves toward protecting waterways, wildlife, and recreationists from the contamination of microbeads, Baykeeper will continue to work toward stopping other sources of plastic pollution in San Francisco Bay.