The Big Problem with Microbeads

Thanks in no small part to the alleged Texas-sized mass of floating debris in the Pacific ocean and the steady flow of grim stats (there are close to 270,000 metric tons of plastic floating in our oceans…yikes), the public is more educated on plastic pollution than ever before. And rightfully so. It’s a big, scary problem, which in conjunction with water shortages and climate change, needs to be addressed immediately. On a research trip to The Great Lakes, The 5 Gyres Institute—a non-profit dedicated to preventing plastic pollution—identified another issue threatening our waterways—this one, harder to spot with the naked eye. Microbeads—the teeny, tiny plastic balls found in cleansers, exfoliators, and even toothpaste—are too minuscule for filters, which results in them spilling out into our fresh water systems and eventually, the environment, where they absorb pollutants and wreck havoc on marine life—and consequently, our food supply.

The ultimate solution is pretty simple: Convince legislators to implement a total ban on microbeads. But with endless red tape and powerful lobbying groups, it’s not so easy. Meanwhile, 5Gyres has launched a national awareness campaign, urging consumers to boycott microbead-riddled products (they can be identified as polyethylene or polypropylene on ingredients labels–so look for products that use apricot kernel shells, sugar, or jojoba beads instead) and asking manufacturers to tweak their formulas. As of right now a bunch of big-name producers including Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Whole Foods are on board. 5 Gyres has also set up the Ban The Bead petition to keep plastic microbeads out of products—please sign it!