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Supermarkets removed microbead products before Erie County ban Sunday

Sam Kraus is having a hard time finding a suitable replacement for the facial cleanser he can no longer get at his local supermarket.

The Buffalo resident had been buying Clean & Clear Deep Action Exfoliating Scrub at Wegmans, but the product containing the now-banned microbeads disappeared from store shelves several weeks ago.

So far, he’s tried three different items since his go-to skin care product got pulled.

“They don’t really seem to have a good alternative for it at the moment,” Kraus said inside the chain’s Amherst Street store on Monday morning.

Stores in Erie County scrubbed their shelves clean of products that contain tiny plastic beads in recent weeks leading up to this past Sunday, when a local ban went into effect.

The county won’t enforce the ban right away.

And County Attorney Michael Siragusa has said the ban might not stand up to a court challenge, telling county lawmakers last week that if the matter were to go to court, the county would face an “uphill battle.”

Anthony Dias, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer representing the Personal Care Products Council, told Erie County legislators last week that the federal Microbead-Free Waters Act pre-empts the county’s law immediately.

The federal act gives manufacturers until July 1, 2017, to stop making products containing plastic microbeads and gives retailers until July 1, 2018, to stop selling them.

But area retailers have been preparing for the ban for months, and small portions of local shelves where facial scrubs and toothpaste used to be displayed remained empty Monday.

Wegmans announced in December it would stop carrying products with plastic microbeads at all of its stores.

The 13 Buffalo-area stores no longer sell the body washes, moisturizers, cleansers and toothpastes with the environmentally damaging ingredient, and the Rochester-based grocery chain also has said it plans to pull products with microbeads from all of its stores nationwide by the middle of the month.

“It’s been a gradual thing over the past couple months,” said Michele Mehaffy, consumer affairs manager for Wegmans’ Buffalo-area locations.

Some manufacturers have made changes to the formulas of some of their products, taking out the tiny plastic particles, but others are still developing a microbead-free ingredient mix, Mehaffy said. The company’s website lists 32 skin care products and eight types of toothpaste it removed from its shelves.

Other retailers also have been working to pull products in advance of the county ban. Tops Markets said in August that it planned to remove products containing microbeads within six months from all of its more than 150 stores, not just in Erie County.

The county’s ban was approved by lawmakers last summer. In late December, President Obama signed the federal ban that eventually phases out the materials, which are listed in product ingredients as polyethylene or polypropylene, starting next year.