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A Clean Face shouldn’t mean Dirty Water: 10 things you didn’t know about microbeads


1. Microbeads are used in hundreds of personal care products (including toothpaste, shaving cream, shower gel and exfoliating scrubs):microbead blog 1

Today, a significant number of personal care products such as scrubs and toothpastes are known to contain thousands of minuscule balls of plastic called microbeads. Over the years, microbeads have replaced traditional, biodegradable alternatives such as ground nut shells, and salt crystals.

2. Microbeads are really small!

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Typically, microplastics are defined as: plastic pieces or fibers measuring less than 5 mm. The microbeads found in personal care products are almost always smaller than 1 mm.  Microbeads can constitute up to 10% by volume of a product, so a single product may contain literally thousands of microbeads. One product, Neutrogena’s “Deep Clean”, contains an estimated 360,000 micro-beads in one tube.

3. Sewage treatment facilities are not designed to filter these tiny microbeads from wastewater:

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Products containing microbeads are designed to be washed down the drain. Once microbeads are washed down the drain, they can enter waterways through sewage overflows or even pass through sewage treatment plants. Both conduits deposit microbeads into lakes, rivers, and eventually the ocean. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove.

4. In 2012, scientists found microbeads numbering more than 450,000 per square kilometer in parts of the Great Lakes:

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A paper was published recently in the peer-reviewed Marine Pollution Bulletin. Written by 5 Gyres Institute, in collaboration with researchers from State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia, the report is believed to be the first micro-plastic pollution survey of the Great Lakes Region.

5. Once in the water, microbeads, like other plastics, can attract and absorb toxic chemicals:

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The surface of microplastics has been proven to attract and absorb persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs and DDT from the aquatic environment. Relatively high concentrations of POPs have been found on the surface of microplastics. Scientists hypothesize that over time, POPs will start accumulating in the food chain, transferring from species to species, with consequences ultimately for humans.

6. Not only do they enter our waterways, they can also enter the food chain:

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Microbeads can be mistaken for food by small fish and aquatic life and have been found in fish, marine mammals and reptiles, and in the digestive and circulatory systems of mussels and worms. Scientific studies have shown that fish and wildlife of all sizes consume plastic and that the chemicals can be passed up the food chain to larger fish, wildlife, and ultimately humans.

7. Plastic microbeads are completely unnecessary: natural, biodegradable and effective alternative ingredients such as ground nut shells and salt crystals are readily available:

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Safer, biodegradable, non-polluting alternatives such as apricot shells and cocoa beans can be used as abrasives in personal care products instead of plastic microbeads. Some companies already use safe alternatives, while other companies have agreed to phase out plastic microbeads over time. While this is a step in the right direction, many companies still use plastic microbeads, and others have not agreed to remove microbeads in a timely manner.

8. Microbeads found in toothpaste are for decorative purposes only:

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A number of toothpaste products contain microbeads made from polyethylene (PE). According to the Official Crest Website, polyethylene is added to your toothpaste for color, not as an aid in helping to clean your teeth or to disperse important anti-plaque or anti-cavity ingredients. Dental hygenists find them in the gums of their patients and are not very happy about it. Read the disturbing blog of one of these professionals here.

9. New York is considering a Ban on Microbeads:

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The Microbead-Free Waters Act will ban plastic microbeads in all personal care products in New York State, before more damage is done. The NYS Assembly has already passed this commonsense legislation unanimously, and we need your help to ensure that the Senate follows suit this legislative session and our treasured waters are protected from harmful plastic pollution. Urge the New York Legislature to pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act! It takes less than a minute to email legislative leaders. Take Action Now

10. Want to avoid using products that contain microbeads? Look for one of the following names on the ingredient list: polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), nylon or Poly(methyl) methacrylate (PMMA). Also, there’s an app for that!

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Until a law is passed and implemented, many wonder how to avoid buying products with plastic microbeads.  You can do this by checking the product ingredient list and avoid buying products with “polyethylene” or “polypropylene.” You can also download the “Beat the Microbead” application for your smartphone at www.beatthemicrobead.org. This app lets you check if a product contains microbeads by scanning the barcode with your smartphone camera. The application is still relatively new, so if you find a product that is still unknown in the database, you can add the product by using the App.

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This entry was posted in Activism, Legislative, Open Space and Wildlife, Water Protection and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Comment

  1. Posted June 6, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Interesting post – I didn’t know about this issue, although of course I’ve seen commercials for products with microbeads. I didn’t realize they were simply small plastic beads. Of course they will get into our environment! This certainly wasn’t well thought-out by product manufacturers!

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