Pour out some for your Johnson & Johnson, Colgate, L?Or?al, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever products that are formulated with those deadly little microbeads because their days are numbered. Environmentalists and lawmakers in California, Ohio and New York are calling for statewide bans on “microbeads” in beauty products including your toothpaste. Just last month, Illinois’ governor signed legislation that would phase microbeads out of personal care products – the first state to do so. It’s not because environmentalist have nothing better to do than to put the smack down on your vanity, it’s actually to save marine life. As it turns out, according to extensive research, fish are eating our “micro” beads because they are so small they slip through sewage treatment filters and end up in oceans and lakes. Beads have been found in the L.A. River and the Pacific Ocean and tens of millions have already built up in Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Erie with some concentrations in excess of 1 million plastic beads per square mile. Some of these beads inevitably enter our food chain.
Microbeads are non-biodegradable plastic balls less than 5 mm in size. The microbeads most commonly 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. Gaining popularity in the 90s (we know you all were just as cuckoo over your new Johnson & Johnson scrubby face wash as we were in high school), microbeads quickly replaced biodegradable alternatives like ground nut seeds and shells (hello apricot scrub). As for replacing the beads with biodegradable plastic, it won’t work as biodegradable plastic does not degrade in marine environments.
Some of the most compelling research has found that fish can easily mistake the beads for food. Depending on the species, some can easily excrete the plastic but some can’t. Though there is not yet any long-term research that exists to show if we’ve been eating the fish backed up with plastic beads, intercepting this possible disastrous problem before we have the possibility of sick people and sicker fish is a smart move. L’Oreal is one of the first major brands in agreement and has plans to phase all of the beads out of their products (including their sub-brands) by 2017. Johnson & Johnson, Colgate, L?Or?al, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever are all planing to replace the microbeads in their products with natural substances like ground fruit seeds and sea salt. On a side note, honestly, before we learned the importance of reading labels, we never questioned those little beads as we always thought they were biodegradable. Why was there ever plastic in our toothpaste and face wash in the first place? We can only hope that this microbeads ban goes nationwide fairly soon. I mean who wants to have a crispy rice and tuna at your favorite little joint only to realize that the “fish egg/caviar” topping is actually from your Neutrogena bottle and weren’t eggs after all. Belch. Seriously though, we want to keep the fish healthy.
If you want to avoid products with microbeads (and we hope you do), you can download Beat The Bead, a free app by International Campaign Against Microbeads In Cosmetics which allows you to scan the barcodes of your favorite products to see if they contain any problematic beads. #banthebead