So Long, Plastic Microbeads!

Credit: MCPA Photos/Flickr Creative Commons

Credit: MCPA Photos/Flickr Creative Commons

If you didn’t already know, I love the ocean. (After all, “sea” is half of this blog’s title.) In my day job, I work for an environmental nonprofit, which aims to protect the ocean. It can sometimes feel overwhelming—especially when there are so many problems facing the ocean, and seemingly so few solutions. Earlier this week, however, the ocean community had a major victory, and one which coincides nicely with the content on my blog: the United States Congress passed a ban on plastic microbeads in soaps, body wash, and other personal care products.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I already try my best not to purchase products which contain plastic microbeads. This can be a bit difficult since they’re found in everything from body wash to toothpaste. However, I’ve been able to find acceptable substitutes for pretty much everything. Despite being a staunch environmentalist, I’m the first to admit that I’m far from perfect, and that most people won’t give up their favorite products without a comparable replacement.

Microbeads are used in many beauty products as an abrasive: as exfoliators in our cleansers and as “bursting beads” in cosmetics. (You know those fancy “shade match” products that start out white and magically turn to the color of your skin? You can thank plastic microbeads.) Cosmetics companies market these products as gentler than natural alternatives (crushed walnuts, apricots, etc.) suitable for everyday use—thereby causing consumers to use more of the product.

However, while these teeny tiny plastic particles are designed to go down your drain, they’re often too small to be filtered out by wastewater treatment plants, and are washed out to sea, where they are consumed by fish, turtles, birds, and other sea life. (Or, if you live in the midwest, they’re washed into the Great Lakes.) I’ll go ahead and get off my soap box, but the implications for the environment aren’t good.

This federal ban on microbeads follows a greater trend across the U.S., where states like California and Illinois have already passed state bans on the products. Thankfully, plastic microbeads will be banned from all personal hygiene products beginning in July 2017. This means that cosmetics companies will have to come up with alternatives that are less harmful to the environment.

Personally, I’m excited to begin seeing more ocean-friendly products on the shelves of my local CVS. Not only will it make me feel better about the products I purchase, but it will go a long way toward protecting the ocean wildlife I care so much about.