What are Microbeads?
Microbeads are solid plastic pieces in personal care products like shampoos, facial cleansers, and toothpaste. Microbeads have significantly added to the global plastic pollution problem. When microbeads enter wastewater, they are too small to be filtered out in sewage treatment plants so they can enter streams and rivers, and eventually make their way to the ocean. Despite their small size, microbeads have a massive impact on marine environments, and studies show that there are huge numbers of microbeads in our oceans. Ocean animals eat the microbeads, and some plastics eaten by marine life, especially filter feeders, get passed on to humans when we consume seafood. Ultimately, microbeads lead to an unhealthy ocean, which can negatively impact human health as well, but there’s good news…
Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015
On December 28th, 2015, President Obama signed a bipartisan bill that will prohibit the selling and distributing of products that contain microbeads in the United States. This was a huge success in furthering the prevention of plastic pollution. Not all microplastics in personal care products, however, are banned by this bill, because so-called leave-on products (like make-up) are exempted. These other plastics are often much smaller than the plastic microbeads, which only increases the chance of being ingested by marine biota.
Photo Credit: Plastic Soup Foundation
Microbeads around the world
The United States now joins a network of countries around the world working to ban microbeads. The Netherlands, with some other countries of the European Union, is pushing for a Europe-wide ban. The UK Environmental Audit Committee recently launched an inquiry into the environmental impacts of microplastics and microbeads. Australia has a major campaign against microbeads, which has resulted in a number of cosmetic companies voluntarily banning the use of microbes, but a nationwide ban still needs to be put into effect. Canada also plans to prohibit microbeads, and is currently allowing the public to give their input on the ban. It is an exciting time as more people get involved in promoting microbead bans in countries around the world.
What do I do with all my products made with microbeads?
It is very important that you don’t pour these products down the drain or throw them out! There are a number of options for safer microbead product disposal.
- You can send any product made with microbeads back to their manufacturer. Simply write a letter explaining that you will no longer be using the product, and send it back! A sample letter was created by Beat The Microbead a campaign of the Plastic Soup Foundation.
- Send your microbead products to 5 Gyres who will filter out the plastics and use them for education kits. Their address is: 5 Gyres Institute, 3131 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404
- If you absolutely love your product and don’t want to get rid of it, filter out the microbeads yourself and keep your product. The plastics can be taken out by filtering them through a coffee filter, and then using a funnel to put your product back into the container. Make sure you dispose of the microbeads properly with the options above.
Until these products are off the shelves, continue to choose microbead-free products! A list of products with and without microbeads can be found here. You can also download the app to check if a product contain microbeads before buying it.
Photo Credit: 5 Gyres
For World Oceans Day
- Set up an educational booth, sharing information about microbeads, how to avoid them and how to dispose of them. Show the public the problem by filtering a microbead-containing product through a coffee filter
- Hold a microbead drive, encouraging event attendees to bring their products containing microbeads and dispose of them properly using one of the ideas above
- Make a pledge to choose microbead-free products and encourage others to do the same
- If you live in a country without a microbead policy, create a petition to ban microbead products and send it to government representatives
A microbead ban is just one step in becoming a more plastic-free society. Don’t forget to take the Better Bag Challenge to help eliminate the use of disposable plastic bags and learn about other ways you can take action!
-Post written by Samantha Mackiewicz with input from the Plastic Soup Foundation