They’re tiny, but they’re having a serious impact on our lakes, oceans and on aquatic life.
You may have heard of them: Tiny bits of plastic added to skin care products to provide grit. Everyone is familiar with gritty toothpaste or abrasive skin cream. Ever wonder what’s in that stuff?
There’s a good chance that the gritty texture in the products you may be using stems from minuscule grains of plastic – too small to filter out or remove from the wastewater stream. The particles are simply flushed out into lakes and streams where they accumulate and linger. They are light enough to float on the surface. To small fish and waterfowl, they look like food.
Like many contaminants, micro plastics make their way up the food chain where they accumulate in higher and higher concentrations. Not enough research has been done to know what kind of health issues may be linked to the ingestion of micro beads. Common sense tells us that the sooner we stop production of these hazardous materials, the better for us and for the environment.
A tube of Johnson and Johnson’s Clean and Clear facial scrub contains about 330 000 micro beads!
Environmentally conscious people have taken notice and some positive steps have been taken. Illinois is the first state to place a ban on micro beads. The NDP has proposed similar measures in Canada and environment Canada is studying the effect that micro plastics are having on the great lakes region. This is good news to be sure. However, even where bans have been proposed, it will take a number of years to phase out the products. Illinois, for example is giving manufacturers three years to comply with the legislation. It won’t be until 2019, that products containing micro beads can no longer be sold in Illinois.
There is a more immediate solution. Large corporations may take a while to adapt, but as informed consumers, we can make better choices today. The next time you buy an exfoliating beauty product, check the ingredients for the type of exfoliant used. Plastic beads don’t harm the skin directly, but they still cause plenty of harm. Better alternatives include rice, apricot seeds, salt crystals, walnut shells. powdered pecan shells, bamboo and my favourite – fine clay.
Of course there is no real reason to be using plastic in the first place. We know that large amounts of plastic are already floating in our waters. The accumulation of plastic waste is major concern. Why then would we be adding to this mess by creating a pollutant that is almost impossible to get rid of?
Like many bad ideas, this one stems from an economic imperative. Our economic system dictates that companies, especially big ones, seek the cheapest mode of production possible. Conscientious behaviour on the part of consumer is often the only thing to hold large producers in check. As we strive to make good choices, micro beads are something to be aware of.