Microbeads Creating Major Problems

Posted by — July 16, 2014 12:17 pm

An estimated millions of tons of plastic debris float in the world’s oceans, creating urban islands of waste reminiscent of landfills. However, in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, samples were collected at 141 ocean sites, and a new estimate was obtained: 7,000 to 35,000 tons. Although this is a smaller -and by association a “better”- number, it raises alarm as “we can’t account for 99% of the plastic that we have in the ocean” the study’s team leader Duarte explains.


In this 2012 file photo provided by 5gyres.org, a sample of “microbeads” collected in eastern Lake Erie is shown on the face of a penny. Illinois environmentalists expecting a battle with business over a call for a ban on the tiny bits of plastic used in personal care products, found the industry quickly collaborated. With similar bans pending in at least three other large states, the extinction of microbeads, now showing up inside fish that are caught for human consumption, is happening in an unusually short amount of time. (AP Photo/Courtesy 5gyres.org, Carolyn Box, File) via Big Story

The data itself is inconclusive, but it is more than likely that plastic is being eaten by fish. Oceanographer Peter Davison of the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research in Petaluma, California agrees, “Yes, animals are eating it…that much is indisputable.” The presence of plastic throughout the marine environment, mainly concerning ingestion, was further investigated, and microplastics were recovered from the soft tissues of two species of commercially grown bivalves. As humans consume a notable amount of seafood, this finding could pose a threat to our food safety. In her article, Lisbeth Van Cauwenberghe explains that, “due to the complexity of estimating microplastic toxicity, estimations of the potential risks for human health posed by microplastics in food stuffs is not (yet) possible”

Though we may not know all the negative repercussions microplastics pose to our ocean’s health, we do know that they are present in our waterways and being consumed by birds and fish. Because microbeads -the tiny, plastic, exfoliating beads in your face wash, scrub, and toothpaste- cannot be strained out when water is being treated, they now reside at surface level in “every river and every inland lake.”

Environmentalists have started to take action beyond boycotting personal care products containing plastic. Voiced opinions and concerns regarding microbeads were heard, and “top companies have reached a deal to ban microbeads.” John Flesher from Big Story puts it nicely: “the extinction of microbeads is taking shape as one of the unlikeliest events in the politics of nature: a low-stress compromise by interest groups that are often at each other’s throats.” We likely won’t see these changes reflected in cosmetic offerings until 2016-2017, but the unanimous decision to start eliminating microbeads and using alternatives to plastic is an exciting one.

Will you miss microbeads in your personal care products, or have you been waiting for this ban to be enacted? Take a look at our Facebook page and let us know what you think! Click the links below to learn more and read the mentioned articles.


Cauwenberghe, Lisabeth V., and Colin R. Janssen. “Microplastics in Bivalaves.”Environmental Pollution 193 (2014): 65-70. Web.

Chen, Angus. “Ninety-nine Percent of the Ocean’s Plastic Is Missing.”ScienceMag.org. N.p., 30 June 2014. Web.

Dawson, Alene. “Groups Trying to Scrub Exfoliating Microbeads From Store Shelves.” Los Angeles Times. N.p., 23 June 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.

Flesher, John. “In Odd Twist, Industry Agrees to Ban ‘Microbeads'” The Big Story. N.p., 18 June 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.

Jerome, Sara. “Microbeads, Polluting Waterways, Banned By Industry.” Water Online. N.p., 7 July 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.

Saunders, Debra J. “Garbage-patch Tale as Flimsy as a Single-use Plastic Bag.”SFGate. N.p., 2 July 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.

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