President Obama sat down on Monday of last week (12/28/2015) to sign a bill banning microbeads from products sold or distributed in the United States of America. You may have become accustomed to the soothing exfoliation in your face wash, but trust us – this bill is a good thing. Microbeads are plastic fragments or beads that are smaller than 5 mm (though most are smaller than 1mm) contained in a variety of products from toothpaste and other personal care items to household cleaning supplies. Their small size is part of their design – they’re built to go down the drain – but because of their small size, they aren’t all filtered out during waste water treatment and get flushed into our waterways.
Small things like this tend to add up: a study from Environmental Science & Technology from September conservatively estimates that approximately 8 trillion microbeads are released into our waterways every day – that’s enough to cover over 300 tennis courts daily. Not to mention that the microbeads that do get filtered out during waste water treatment may still end up in our water ways through various disposal methods – and they’ve been soaking in sewage sludge. The microplastics are nuisance enough – they take a long time to break down due to their lives being spent in cool waters where they accumulate in higher and higher concentrations. These kinds of plastics have been found to soak up chemicals and pollutants from the air and water, like pesticides and hydrocarbons that are related to cancer. Fish and other aquatic life are mistaking them for food particles and eating them, which not only can harm the fish, but also can lead to microbeads ending up on our plates.
This new law will mandate that these environmentally harmful beads will be excluded from products starting in July 2017. This shouldn’t prove a problem for corporations like Johnson & Johnson as these microbeads were simply created to mimic exfoliants found in nature, which, to no surprise, are hands-down more effective exfoliants than their plastic counterparts.
You don’t have to wait until next July to begin making a change, you can begin avoiding microbeads right now. Check your labels: if you see things like polyethylene, polylactic acid (PLA), polypropylene, polystyrene, or polyethylene terephthalate – stay away. If you see things like walnut husk, pumice, oatmeal, or apricot – scrub away. You can also check out this helpful list of products that contain microbeads from the International Campaign Against Microbeads in Cosmetics, or visit their website beatthemicrobead.org.