Posts Tagged ‘Microbeads’

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Tiny plastic microbeads in personal care products are washing into public waterways. — credit: Alliance for the Great Lakes

In March of 2014, I wrote a post about microbeads. Microbeads, for those who might be wondering, are tinny spheres of plastic that are added to a variety of personal care products such as toothpaste, body wash, and soap to increase the abrasiveness of the product. The problem is that these pieces of plastic are so small that they pass right through filters and water treatment plants and then flow out into the environment where they can have serious consequences. The polystyrene that microbeads are commonly made of attract a range of chemicals that bind to their surface. When a fish mistakes a microbead for a fish or insect egg, it not only gets a piece of plastic in its stomach, but also a concentrated does of the chemicals that piece of plastic is carrying.

And some of the numbers around microbeads are staggering! Researchers at State University of New York found that an average one square kilometer of Lake Ontario contained approximately 1.1 million microbeads! All these particles move through our streams, lakes, and rivers and eventually find their way to the oceans where they contribute to the massive amount of plastics floating on the earth’s oceans. These plastics continue to have environmental health effects as they move through food webs. A recent study out of Oregon State University found that approximately 90% of the seabirds in the world had plastic in their guts.

So, what to do? Well, in March of this year, Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) introduced H.R. 1321 to the U.S. House of Representatives which would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit microbeads from being added to products. It calls for the phasing out of microbeads beginning on the 1st of July, 2017. And on the 7th of Dec. the House voted on, and passed, H.R. 1321! This legislation will now go to the US Senate for a vote, and then on to the President to be signed into law.

So, the U.S. Senate is the next hurdle. To help this bill over that hurdle, write to your senators and tell them that you want a vote on this issue, and that you want them to vote with the environment and ban microbeads from our waterways and the waters of the planet!


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There is plastic in your toothpaste! And in body washes and shampoos, as well. Tiny spheres of plastic called microbeads are used to help scrub plaque off the surface of teeth and exfoliate dead layers off the surface of skin, but they have harsh environmental costs.

Microbeads are very small spheres that generally range in size from 0.5 to 500 micrometers and are usually made of polystyrene. They are designed to be small enough that they will wash down the drain of sinks and bathtubs without clogging them. However, this same small size allows them to also slip right past filters and water treatment plants out into the environment. Polystyrene does not biodegrade, so microbeads last for a very long time without breaking down. This means that they accumulate into some pretty significant figures. It has been estimated that 90% of the plastic in Lake Eire, and other lakes in te eastern U.S.A. are microbeads! Once they are out our waterways, they can collect toxic chemicals such as PCBs that bind to their surfaces. They also look like small fish or insect eggs and so are eaten by a wide range of fish. These fish are then eaten by larger fish and the toxins bioaccumulate as they work their way up the food chain eventually to humans.

States are beginning to take a stand to remove microbeads from products. In February, bills were introduced in both New York (by Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney (D)) and California (by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D)) that would ban the sale of cosmetic products that contain microbeads. And we, as consumers, can also play a very important part in protecting the environment on this issue by not buying products that contain microbeads, and so voting with our wallets. The environmental group 5 Gyers has produced a free iPhone app called ‘Beat the Microbead’ that allows consumers to scan product bar codes and find out if they contain microbeads. Microbeads also can be found in the ingredient list of cosmetic products; however, they are not listed as microbeads. Instead, watch for polystyrene, polyethylene or polypropylene. If a product contains one of those ingredients, it is likely in the form of microbeads.

Getting rid of microbeads does not mean that tooth paste will no longer clean your teeth or that facial scrubs will no longer clean your face. Nut hulls or fruit pits that are ground into tiny fragments work well as an exfoliant, and some companies, such as Burt’s Bees, already use them instead of plastics.

So, let’s put our money where our mouth is, send a message to cosmetics companies, and stop buying microbeads!

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