NY Legislature Attacking Facial Scrubs… And They’re Probably Right To Do So!

I say “probably” because I haven’t had time to research the factual claims behind the legislation. But if anyone thinks conservatives are against all government action, then this might be a time to set the record straight. If the facts are correct then I think if is quite likely that the NY legislature is doing exactly what it needs to do. In that case, I hope other states, or even the Federal Government follows their example.

Here is Newser.com’s summary:

New York state lawmakers have set their sights on an unlikely target: facial scrubs. More specifically, the washes, soaps, and toothpastes that contain smaller-than-a-salt-grain plastic beads, which are touted for their exfoliation abilities and derided for what scientists say they're doing to our ecosystem. As the New York Times reports, the beads are a kind of "microplastic" small enough to evade wastewater facility treatment efforts; they've been found in the Great Lakes (which are populated by tens of millions of them, say scientists), the Pacific, and the Los Angeles River; late last month, in fact, the LAT dug into the damage the polyethylene and polypropylene beads are doing. The Buffalo News reports the beads can persist for centuries, and they don't float there innocuously: Marine life will eat the beads, which can become toxin-coated; they may then enter the food chain.

Albany lawmakers will today announce a bill that would ban the sale of cosmetic and beauty products made with plastic particles that measure fewer than 5 millimeters; it would be the first state with such a ban.

I think the cosmetic industry is being reasonable to object to being singled out if, as they say, the micro-plastic is being used elsewhere. I’m not sure why the NY legislature couldn’t ban the material in all products. But if they are in good faith acting on the principle that they have to start somewhere, then I don’t think that should stop the bill. Also, legislation, taken by itself in isolation, is not going to solve this problem anyway. This is part of the way society learns and responds to a previously unrecognized threat. So the desire of companies to maintain consumer approval will also make them change their methods. There is even an iPhone app to alert people about products using the “microbead.”

People really can make decisions that benefit them in the short run but, inadvertently or not, hurt everyone in the long run. While class action lawsuits might be preferable for such cases, if we are going to have legislatures in society I am happy to see them using their powers for good.

So no, “environmentalism” is not always evil—it is a positive good and a necessary tool for survival when it is based on factual information and aimed at protecting human health and prosperity.