In order to protect surrounding waterways teeming with millions of plastic particles, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a law yesterday banning the production and sale of personal care products that contain synthetic microbeads.

The non-biodegradable beads -- which can be found in facial cleansers, hand washes and toothpastes -- serve as exfoliating agents. But studies have shown that the beads are devastating rivers and lakes across the nation, slipping through water treatment systems and sopping up toxins. Often mistaken for fish eggs by other sea creatures, they are then consumed as food.

The Illinois law, which is the first of its kind to be passed, states that the manufacture and sale of products containing the tiny beads must phase out over the next five years.

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“I’m optimistic that we’ve started a nationwide movement to protect not just the Great Lakes, but other bodies of water with high concentrations of microbeads,” senator Heather Steans, who co-sponsored the bill, told The Chicago Tribune.

Other states are weighing similar legislation, with New York eyeing a deadline for banning the ingredient that could be as early as 2016. And cosmetic giants such as L’Oreal and Unilever are already on board. Each has announced a commitment to remove the ingredient by 2017 and 2015, respectively.

While Unilever vowed to “deliver a similar exfoliating performance without the need to use plastics,” L’Oreal concurred that natural alternatives, such as mineral particles and fruit seeds, can provide a similar effect. 

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