Plastic Microbeads Contaminate Water

June 25, 2014

Everyone loves smooth and exfoliated skin! It can make you feel youthful and rejuvenated. However, beauty products with plastic microbeads that can help maintain that look and feel are also responsible for contaminating water and poisoning fish.

Many people are surprised when they discover that plastic microbeads are in face and body washes, toothpaste and hand sanitizers. These beads glide down drains and most wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter them or break down the plastics. As a result, they remain in the treated water that is distributed into the environment. Once they reach bodies of water the microbeads absorb toxins in the water.  Fish and other aquatic wildlife mistakenly eat the toxic, plastic beads thinking that they are food.

This is creating an environmental nightmare because they are very small and difficult to remove from the water. Filtering out the plastic microbeads can also result in harming aquatic organisms such as plankton.

Organizations like the U.S.-based 5 Gyres institute have been working to eliminate microplastic pollution. They estimate that a single beauty product can contain over 300,000 plastic microbeads. In the summer of 2012, the institute collected samples from three of the Great Lakes and discovered that the samples contained more microplastic particles than 400 samples collected from five ocean subtropical gyres around the world. That’s a lot of water pollution!

But that’s just a glimpse of how plastic microbeads are contaminating the water. Other scientists are still conducting research to determine how plastic microbeads affect fish and how many are in oceans.

So far, Illinois is the first state to sign a law banning the manufacturing of products with plastic microbeads. The law will go into effect by the end of 2018. Microbead product sales will be prohibited by the end of 2019. New York, Ohio and California all have plastic microbead elimination bills in the legislative process.

The federal government has also introduced anti-microbead legislation that could ban sale of these products by January 2018.

“I’m thrilled to see the microbead-free waters bill introduced at a national level,” says Anna Cummins, 5 Gyres co-founder and Executive Director. “This is a huge victory for 5 Gyres and for the clean-water community.”

However, consumers do not have to wait for plastic microbead bans to go into effect; they can stop buying and using products with plastic microbeads immediately to reduce water pollution.

Want to know if your facial product includes microbeads? Well, there’s an App for that! The App, developed by the North Sea Foundation and the Plastic Soup Foundation and available from Apple , Google Play, and Windows will let you scan barcodes to see if a product contains microbeads.

The Plastic Soap Foundation produced the following music video exposing plastic microbead water pollution and urging consumers to sign its petition on FaceBook.

-Sheila Headspeth

Video credit: Plastic Soup Foundation

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