Microbead Meltdown

Microbeads have been all over the news recently, and their claim to fame isn't one to be proud of. These tiny synthetic plastic particles, generally made from polyethylene, are wreaking havoc on our environment.

June 24, 2015
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I’ve always been an avid believer in washing my face before bed every night. Even if I’m completely exhausted I try to make an effort to give my face a rinse. The same goes for brushing my teeth. I never really thought twice about washing my face with my favorite exfoliator or brushing my teeth with my go-to toothpaste, but that’s changed since I began hearing about microbeads.

Microbeads have been all over the news recently, and their claim to fame isn’t one to be proud of. These tiny synthetic plastic particles, generally made from polyethylene, are wreaking havoc on our environment.

If you’re like me and use an exfoliator on your skin chances are you’ve come in contact with microbeads. They’re tiny pieces of plastic used as an abrasive in many personal-care and beauty products, including facial scrubs and soaps. They’re also added to makeup and toothpaste.

Yes, there could be tiny plastic pieces in some of your personal care products.

These tiny particles of plastic, barely visible to the naked eye, are added to many personal care products for texture. The microbeads found in personal care products are almost always smaller than 1 mm. The “scrub beads”, as they’re sometimes called, are thought to help exfoliate our skin and keep our teeth sparkly clean, and companies are using them because they’re cheap to produce.

What’s scary is that every time you wash your face with a product containing those tiny plastic beads they wash right down the drain. Due to their small size they end up slipping through most water treatment facilities and make their way into our oceans, lakes and streams.

Microbeads then become part of the plastic pollution found in the ocean. They’re also turning up in the tens of millions in the Great Lakes, which contain about 21% of the world’s supply of surface fresh water.

When those tiny microbeads end up in our water ways they’re often mistaken by fish and other marine life as food. The plastic pieces can poison and kill the fish when they’re

consumed.

It gets even worse from there.

As the cycle continues and fish eat other fish microbeads continue to make their way up the food chain and ultimately into the bellies of humans.

According to the Environmental Working Group, these little plastic beads sit around for a long time waiting to decompose. They have plenty of time to act as tiny toxic sponges, soaking up chemical pollutants such as phthalates and PCBs. When they’re eaten by fish they end up in the food supply.

There is some good news on the microbead front though.

Due to consumer pressure, several companies are voluntarily committing to remove microbeads from their products. According to Beat the Microbead:

In December of 2012 Unilever announced that all of its products worldwide would be plastic free by 2015. Other companies including Colgate-Palmolive, and L’Oréal L’ have stopped using microbeads. Procter & Gamble says their products will be free from microbeads by 2017 at the earliest. Johnson & Johnson says it has already started phasing out microbeads and will no longer develop products containing microbeads. Target’s goal is to remove microbeads from all their own brand products by the end of 2015.

Given the extreme dangers that microplastic pollution poses to our waterways and the environment, there are at least 15 microbead bills pending at various stages across the country.

So read your labels!

Read your labels! The microbeads used in personal care products are mainly made of polyethylene (PE). Don’t use products with PE. Also be on the lookout for products containing these ingredients: polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET),  polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon.

Head on over to Beat the Microbead for a list of brands and products to avoid and products that are microbead free.

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