Americans will stop scrubbing faces and brushing teeth with tiny beads of plastic by July 2017. The Microbead-Free Waters Act sailed through the House and the Senate with rare, unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans just before Christmas. The bill is so popular that even companies currently putting microbeads in their products were in favor of it.
Plastic microbeads are added to many face soaps, body washes, toothpastes and cleaning products as abrasives. In make-up, they are used as wrinkle fillers. Few consumers even suspected these products contained plastic until research, done by Sherri Mason of The State University of New York at Fredonia in 2012, was picked up by news media around the country. Mason found high concentrations of tiny pieces of plastic from soaps, toothpastes and other products, most less than 1 mm across, in Great Lake waters.
Those microbeads in your exfoliating body wash go down the shower drain, flow unimpeded through a wastewater treatment plant and into a body of water. Wastewater treatment plants are designed to catch big debris but aren’t able to remove the very small plastic beads added to these products. Microbeads persist in the environment where toxic chemicals, like flame retardants and pesticides, adhere onto the plastic spheres in much greater concentrations than the surrounding water. Animals eat the microbeads and their toxic coatings. Research is being done now on the effects of these toxins as they move up the food chain from small fish to larger fish and possibly to people.
Putting tiny beads of plastic in products was a bad idea in the first place. Kudos to conscientious consumers and elected officials for putting an end to the practice! The Microbead-Free Waters Act will certainly help, but it won’t eliminate the deluge of tiny pieces of plastic in water bodies.
Want to help keep microplastic out of the ocean? Keep larger pieces of plastic from reaching it in the first place. Plastic doesn’t disappear, but it does fragment into smaller and smaller pieces. One single piece of plastic can break into thousands of smaller pieces. Removing thousands of really tiny plastic pieces from the ocean is almost impossible, but preventing the big plastic pieces from washing out to sea is easy. The next time you’re heading to the beach, grab a bag from the BlueTube, pick up plastic trash and throw it away. Maybe you are picking up after a careless beach visitor. Maybe you’re removing plastic that washed up on the beach after months at sea. Either way you’re keeping plastic, the macro and future micro kind, out of the ocean.