There have been many media reports recently on the presence of tiny plastic particles in the world’s oceans. Now, researchers are finding the microparticles in the waters of the Great Lakes, too. They place blame on the prevalence of tiny plastic balls in personal care products. Is your body scrub to blame?
The Problem with Microbeads
Many personal care companies boast about the exfoliating power of tiny beads in their gels, scrubs, and even toothpastes. However, once the plastic beads scrub down your skin and get washed down the drain, they tend to stick around.
A petroleum product, the plastic does not degrade in water. Their small size—most are less than two tenths of an inch in diameter—allows them to slip through every treatment stage at municipal water treatment plants. They are released into rivers, lakes, and streams. Eventually, the particles make their way to the Great Lakes and into the stomachs of fish, who mistake the beads for food.
The concentration of plastic microparticles in the Great Lakes is now greater than that in the ocean, where plastics account for 80 to 90 percent of all pollution. Dr. Sherri A. Mason of the State University of New York in Fredonia has collected and analyzed at least 100 samples of Great Lake water. Her research suggests that the lakes contain 1.1 million pieces of microplastics in each square mile of water. All the Great Lakes contain microparticles, but Lake Erie and Lake Ontario contain the most.
Fixing the Microplastic Problem
The public has taken notice of the high microplastic rates in the Great Lakes and pressured companies to make changes to their products. Large corporations such as Johnson & Johnson and Proctor and Gamble have pledged to phase out use of the beads in their products. Some states have proposed laws to ban the sale of products containing microbeads. Just this month, a federal ban was proposed.
Some companies are already using natural alternatives to the plastic beads. Ground nut shells are common choices for alternative scrubbers, as is oat kernel flour. Because they are natural and plant-based, these products degrade in water and pose no threat to the health of our Great Lakes.
Plastic microparticles pose a health threat to the animals of the Great Lakes and pollute our water. The next time you’re in the market for a scrub, gel, or toothpaste, check to see if the product uses plastic beads or a natural alternative. To learn more, contact me!
Here’s to breathing easy and living life to the fullest!
Gene Wood, Life’s Pure Balance