Microbeads – What Can We Do?

While I had intended that my next post be about shea butter or sunflower seed oil, two oils that I love to use in my  products, I think the topic of microbeads is too important not to address. It was only after reading this op-ed,   http://candicemiller.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-miller-cosponsors-legislation-aimed-at-banning-microbeads-from written by U.S. Representative Candice Miller, that this topic really came to my attention. I’m certain it has been an issue for quite a while, and my excuse for ignorance about the topic is that I tend to focus more on the good things that I can add to my products than the bad things that are being added by manufacturers of skin care products.

To sum up what I learned from Candice Millers column, I’ll tell you that microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic that manufacturers have been adding to soap and other skin care products since the 1990’s. Apparently the microbeads are added as exfoliates. They are also added to some toothpaste. Although they do not seem to pose any immediate or long term danger to the user, there are unintended consequences  which are having a negative impact on our environment. These tiny pieces of plastic, after being used to wash, scrub, or brush various parts of our body are being washed down the drain, flushed through sewer systems and, since they are so small, they get a free pass through the filtration system at the water treatment plant. They are then released into whatever body of water the water treatment plant empties into and are free to live out the rest of their lives. I also learned from this site http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/science that these plastic particles are not biodegradable but will only break down into smaller plastic pieces, so apparently they will live forever. However, this is not the end of the story. These, seemingly innocent, plastic pieces swimming in our water ways will apparently bond with other potentially dangerous pollutants such as pathogens or PCB’s, and because of their small size, perhaps the size of fish eggs, they are being mistaken for food by some aquatic life. They, along with whatever other pollutants they may have picked up on their journey, then have the potential to infect the human food chain as we enjoy our fish and sea food dinners.

To me the harm that these plastic particles are causing is far greater than any good that they might do, since they are a completely unnecessary ingredient in any skincare or hygiene product. There are any number of natural ingredients that may be used as exfoliates.

So what’s being done about this? If you clicked on   http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/history you may have read about global initiatives to get companies to stop the use of microbeads in their products. If you read Candice Miller’s article you will know that there has been federal legislation proposed which will prohibit the sale of these products after Jan 1, 2018, some states have or are enacting similar legislation, and that some manufactures have agreed to “phase out” these products.

So what should be done about this? Well in my “ideal world”, when the issue of this negative environmental impact was brought to the attention of the manufactures, these companies would have had the integrity to immediately halt production and sales of any products containing microbeads. This would indicate to me that it was an honest mistake, that the company wanted to prevent any further damage and was willing to put the welfare of the environment ahead of their profits. Since it is quite apparent that we do not live in my “ideal world”, we must also look to the other responsible parties, the users, to stop buying and using these products. This would also be an effective way and (since lawmakers feel the need to allow a 2-3 year  phase out period) a quicker way to prevent this problem from getting any worse. As a single consumer you or I may not mean “boo” to the manufacturer, but as a society, with our collective pocket book, we could speak volumes to these manufactures. Just stop giving them your money in exchange for these products!!!

I understand that it is difficult to know what you are purchasing, since it is extremely frustrating to read product labels, not only because of the impossibly small print, but if you can make out the words you probably don’t know what they are. Maybe this should be a red flag. Don’t buy it if you can’t read the ingredients on the label would be a good rule of thumb. According to  http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/science  “the microbeads used in personal care products are mainly made of polyethylene (PE), but can be also be made of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon.” These ingredients would be the indicators that there are microbeads in the product.. Another option might be to purchase local handcrafted products, where you can know the producer and speak to them directly about the ingredients and the process used to produce the product, or you may even choose, as I have, to learn to make your own skin care products.

So in closing I am asking you to be the answer to the problem. Help protect our Great Lakes and other bodies of water around the world by simply not using products that contain microbeads and by sharing this information with others in hopes that they will do the same.

Have a great day!

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