Illinois Public Act 098-038
Illinois was the first state to pass a bill restricting plastic microbeads in cosmetic products. According to the bill:
“Effective December 31, 2017, no person shall manufacture for sale a personal care product, except for an over the counter drug, that contains synthetic plastic microbeads as defined in this Section.”
“Plastic” means a synthetic material made from linking monomers through a chemical reaction to create an organic polymer chain that can be molded or extruded at high heat into various solid forms retaining their defined shapes during life cycle and after disposal.
“Synthetic plastic microbead” means any intentionally added non-biodegradable solid plastic particle measured less than 5 millimeters in size and is used to exfoliate or cleanse in a rinse-off product.
The bill bans “synthetic plastic microbeads” from selected personal care products. Contrary to the (presumed) intent of the law, the language also contains significant loopholes that allow continued use of conventional plastic microbeads, as described below.
Loophole 1: No definition for “biodegradable”. The bill only covers synthetic plastic microbeads that are non-biodegradable, but does not define biodegradable, either the extent or the timing. Does 3% degradation over six months constitute biodegradable? If so, then polyethylene would pass the test (see this excellent report on biodegradation of polymers in the marine environment from CalRecycle). So the Illinois bill, as written, does not prohibit the most commonly used plastic microbeads.
Loophole 2: Flawed definition for “plastic”. Even if one removed the exception for biodegradable plastics, the definition of “plastic” also leaves huge loopholes. Not all polymers are made by linking monomers (e.g., ring-opening polymerization). Additionally, some plastics are made by modifying existing polymers, including many of the earliest commercial polymers. For example, cellulose acetate (which in some forms can be biodegradable) is made by acetylating the natural polymer cellulose, rather than by linking monomers.