We keep plastic out of our rivers and oceans. Together we keep cancer-causing plastic off your Friday fish dinner plate, away from your sushi, and out of our children’s favorite fish sticks!
Today we discuss the ban of plastic microbeads.
What are microbeads? They’re the tiny plastic spheres (smaller than 1 millimeter) that provide grittiness, for extra scrubbing power, in everyday personal care products like exfoliants, body scrubs, toothpaste and deodorant. Back in the day, you could be forgiven for thinking that the presence of “exfoliating beads” in your face wash made it a better product. What could go wrong? Everyone likes to exfoliate. However, in retrospect, adding microbeads to personal care products was an awful idea with devastating consequences.
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Microbeads are super small. So small they pass right through water filtration systems. Worse, they don’t biodegrade, which means they stay in the ground and waterways forever!
Once microbeads enter aquatic habitats they are eaten by fish, turtles and other marine wildlife. These animals do not distinguish the colorful plastic from actual food. And it gets worse.
Plastics have been shown to absorb pollutants like pesticides, PCBs, heavy metals, oil and PAHs from the air and water around them. So… when the contaminated beads are swallowed by fish and other marine creatures, they end up in the stomachs of marine life. Eventually the contaminated sea-life makes its way to our dinner plate.“
Research completed in 2012 and 2013 by 5 Gyres found particularly high levels of microbeads in the Great Lakes, which are “higher than most oceans worldwide.” On average, the team found 43,000 particles per square kilometer, or about 107,500 particles per square mile, across the Great Lakes. The highest concentration was found in Lake Erie, where 90 percent of all the plastics were found. According to research scientist Chelsea Rochman, 8 billion microbeads were entering U.S. aquatic habitats each day in 2015, which rounds out to approximately 2.9 trillion per year.
In 2015, a bill proposed by U.S. Representative Frank Pallone (NJ) passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate also passed the bill. On December 28, 2015 President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which prohibits the manufacture and introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads by July 1, 2017.
Our waterways have already endured more than two decades of microbead pollution. And though legislation is now enacted here in the U.S., strict measures are not being enforced elsewhere. Global beauty companies are still selling their plastic polluting products elsewhere in the world. For those of you who want to take action against plastic pollution, please consider supporting 5 Gyres, which empowers action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, art, education, and adventure.
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