Is your shampoo, body wash, or toothpaste killing fish? Not with some crazy new chemical, but something very simple: tiny microbeads of plastic. At some point the companies that make personal care products realized that they could put tiny microbeads of plastic in products like shampoo and body wash to exfoliate or lift dirt away. Previously many of these products contained things like sand and ground up seashells to provide exfoliating action. Eventually companies realized that tiny beads of plastic performed the same function but are gentler on the skin.
However, these plastic microbeads are polluting our lakes, rivers and oceans and poisoning fish and other sea animals. The beads are so small that they don’t get filtered out of waste water by water treatment plants and end up going directly into our waterways. Once in the ocean fish swallow the beads and they enter the food stream. Over time, the amount of plastic building up inside of fish is growing. Some of these fish die, others are eaten by larger sea life, and eventually by people.
These microbeads are most commonly found in products that say “scrubbing action” or “exfoliating”. However, they could be in anything. We realized that they are in Jonathan’s preferred toothpaste! If your products say “polyethylene” or “polypropylene” then they have plastics in them. Companies are being encouraged to replace the microbeads with something that is biodegradable. They have found that almonds, sea salts and ground apricot pits are able to provide very similar function and feel, without harming sea life.
So far, the state of Illinois has banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products as of 2015 and New York and California are considering such bans. A similar measure has been introduced to the US House of Representatives. Stopping the flow of micro beads into our waterways will not solve the problem of plastics in the oceans, but it will stop one significant source.
We can do our part by not buying products that have “polyethylene” or “polypropylene” in them, or products that do not list their ingredients and say “exfoliating” or “deep scrubbing”.
For more about microbeads and other microplastics in the ocean, listen to this 8 minute podcast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the Great Garbage Patch.
If you liked what you just read, please signup below to receive our blog posts and tips via email.