Do you know what is in your face wash and body wash? Have you ever noticed how the small beads seem to get everywhere – under your nails and in your hair? Microbeads are minuscule, you wouldn’t think much about them. Or the impact they have on our environment after they to down the drain. Furthermore, you probably can’t imagine how such a small particle might be cancerous to your body.
What Exactly Are Microbeads?
Microbeads are the tiny round balls you find in many common cosmetics and hygiene products. Most commonly toothpaste, body wash and face wash. Many of these small beads are made from polyethylene (PE). PE is a harmful plastic whose chemical compounds are made from petroleum or natural gas. Not only is polyethylene a highly flammable, plastic pollution. The polyethylene material is a highly dangerous risk to many ecosystems and ocean life. In humans, it may also cause hormonal imbalances, infertility, and allergic reactions according to WiseGeek.
The Great Impact of Microbeads on Our Ecosystem
Microplastic has become a huge concern for many. Each bottle of facial scrub, for example, could carry as many as 300,000 microbeads according to 5 Gyres, an organization trying to ban the production of all plastic microbeads. Microbeads are so small that most water treatment systems are unable to filter out the small microplastics. Sending them back into our oceans and Great Lakes. Add up all the products that use microbeads by thousands of people and you have a very large problem.
Sherri Mason, a professor at the University of New York, has been working for the past few years studying microplastic levels in the Great Lakes with her team. In a recent interview with NPR, Sherri Mason was quoted on having found, “On average, 17,000 bits of tiny plastic items per square kilometer in Lake Michigan. The levels were much lower in Lake Huron and Lake Superior, but Lake Erie and Lake Ontario had much higher concentrations. Lake Ontario’s levels are highest, with counts of up to 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer.”
How it is affecting our food
In comparison, National Geographic reported a new study published in Science that for the first time gave a realistic amount to how much plastic pollution is really accumulating in our vast oceans. “In 2010, eight million tons of plastic trash ended up in the ocean from coastal countries—far more than the total that has been measured floating on the surface in the ocean’s “garbage patches.”‘ The study went on to say if we continue to trash our oceans at this rate that within 10 years the amount of trash in our oceans will have accumulated to at least ten-fold what there is now.
The amount of trash in our Great Lakes and oceans are enough to cause concern, but microbeads are causing another problem that brings it right back to our dinner plates. OneGreenPlanet states that a microbead may be up to “one million times more toxic than the seawater around it,” due to the plastic’s nature of attracting and absorbing harmful chemicals already hidden in our water. Harmful chemicals such as DDT, a banned toxic pesticide, and PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls which are banned industrial products or chemicals that are both harmful to humans and animals, and effectively degrade our environment, may be absorbed by plastic microbeads.
Highly toxic microbeads don’t just float in our great bodies of water forever. For animals such as fish, microbeads are a very attractive food source. After they eat the microbead(s), the toxins within leach into the muscles of the fish. This in turn slowly poisons other animals or the fish lands itself on our very own plate. Therefore, our wild caught fish which we once thought were safer may not be. We are slowly poisoning ourselves by not banning the production and use of plastic microbeads!
States Move to Ban Microbeads
Fox News states in their article, “California Bans Microbeads in Victory for Environmentalists,” California has become the ninth state to ban microbeads. Illinois was the first to ban microbeads in 2014. New Jersey, Colorado, Maine, and Wisconsin have passed or are in the process of passing a compromise ban. The compromise ban has many environmentalists very upset, by allowing companies to use a biodegradable microbead. Having this loophole within the compromise ban, it is unknown how long the biodegradable microbeads will take to decompose. They may just further complicate the problem. Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, and Oregon have also proposed bans and New York’s proposed ban was denied in 2015.
To help support the banning of the plastic microbead, please check out Beat the Microbead, an international organization campaigning against microbeads in cosmetics, with more than 35 countries supporting the campaign. Beat the Microbead also has an app that you can download to your smartphone that is compatible with Apple, Google Play and Microsoft. All you have to do is download the app and the app will tell you if a product contains microbeads; by simply scanning the barcode of the product. Simple, easy and a great way to show support!
Natural Exfoliants Instead of Microbeads
Many large companies are making the move to phase out plastic microbeads and use natural exfoliants and abrasives instead. According to Fox News article, “Crest to Remove Potentially Harmful Microbeads From Toothpaste,” Crest is willing to phase out plastic microbeads completely by 2016. Other companies are phasing out microbeads and using natural exfoliants such as apricot seed powder.
There are many natural exfoliates to choose from such as sugar, coffee, almond powder, sea salt, baking soda, and oatmeal. For more information on the health benefits of using natural exfoliates in place of commercialized plastic microbeads please go to DIY Natural.
Every choice we make can make our world brighter and cleaner. All it takes is one choice, one product to share our voice as a consumer. It takes just one choice, to make a difference. We are that difference that the world needs. Help support the ban on microbeads!