A Farewell to Micro-beads in the U.S.A.
Micro-beads will soon be banned at the federal level. You may be wondering, what exactly are micro-beads? Why do they need to be banned? And what does this have to do with me?
Micro-beads are tiny plastic spheres, which are commercially available in a number of sizes ranging from 10 micrometers to 1 millimeter and are used in a number of applications including scientific research. However, they are most commonly seen in consumer products such as toothpaste and facial scrubs, where they are added as exfoliates. Due to their low cost the use of micro-beads in bath and beauty products has become increasingly wide spread and, unfortunately, so have the problems associated with them.
Micro-beads first made national headlines in 2012 when scientists began to report the ecological damages being caused by the tiny plastic spheres and again shortly after, as dentists began to find small pieces of plastics lodged in the gums of their patients.
After we use a product that contains these little plastic spheres they are washed down the drain, headed off to waste water treatment facilities which were not designed to catch the tiny particles. Consequently, they are flushed right through the facilities filtration systems and discharged into our lakes and rivers where they are eventually swept out to sea.
Reports of the harmful impacts of micro-beads in aquatic environments have been on the rise. Micro-beads have been found in alarming concentrations throughout the world’s oceans. In addition, the tiny spheres have been found in all five of the Great Lakes, the world’s largest fresh water system. Recent studies have found concentrations of as much as 1.1 million particles of micro plastics per square mile in some surface areas of the lakes, 60% of which are micro-beads.
The little plastic beads act like sponges which collect environmental toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers to name just a few. The brightly colored micro-beads also mimic fish eggs, which are mistakenly eaten by aquatic life. These creatures cannot digest the plastic and absorb the attached environmental toxins into their organs and body tissues. This is the first step in the unfortunate process of bio-magnification in where the concentration of these toxic substances increase as they move up the food chain with the highest concentrations being absorbed by top predators. A good example of the risks of bio-magnification on human health are mercury levels in fish/shellfish and the dangers they pose to pregnant women and children.
At this time, scientists have yet to prove micro-beads pose a definitive danger to human health. However, the Great Lakes, for example, harbor an extremely large and complicated food web, one in which humans are closely intertwined as apex predators. The regions commercial and sports fishing industries bring revenues of around $4 billion dollars annually. Predatory fish such as salmon, steel head and walleye bring top dollar and are regular staples on the dinner tables of millions of Americans.
The good news is micro-beads will soon be banned here in the United States. In 2014 Illinois became the first state to enact a law banning the production and sale of consumer products containing the tiny beads. Industry giants like Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and many others soon followed suit by agreeing to voluntarily phase the beads out of their product lines. In December 2015, President Obama signed into law the “Microbead Free Waters Act,” which will phase out the manufacture of products that contain plastic micro-beads at the federal level by July 1, 2017 and will effectively ban the sale of such products by July 1, 2018.
What exactly are Micro-Beads? Micro-Beads are the tiny plastic beads that we often see in consumer products such as body wash and toothpaste. Typically, they are added to soaps and beauty products as exfoliates. After use, they are immediately washed down the drain. Due to the small size of these plastics waste water facilities are unable to filter them out and they are discharged into our lakes and rivers. These tiny plastics are making a big impact on the world’s eco-systems. To learn more about Micro-Beads check out the links below.
Plastic Confetti is a short film which explains the many stages of plastic pollution in our oceans and how plastics photo degrade over time in to little pieces of a very big problem.
Small in size but Big in numbers.
Scientists predict that there are over 1.7 million of these beads per square mile in some of America’s great lakes. In New York alone, 19 tons are washed down the drain each year, contributing to the $13 billion dollars worth of plastic waste damage to American marine environments annually.
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This 2-minute video shows how tiny plastic micro-beads are designed to go down the drain and into our rivers, lakes, and oceans and what we can do to stop this assault on the world’s waters.
Washing a single polyester jacket can send 1,900 tiny synthetic micro-fibers into waterways, where they can soak up toxins and get eaten by fish. So what is the outdoor industry doing about it?