When it comes to environmental villains, microbeads pack an especially problematic one-two punch:
They can look like food to marine life, and some fish even prefer the colorful plastic particles to their regular diet.
The tiny beads absorb environmental pollutants like PCBs (flame retardants), BPA and other chemicals, making a single plastic bead up to a million times more toxic than the water around it—bad news if you enjoy eating seafood, or if you’re a fish who enjoys eating plastic (see #1 above).
And microbeads are tiny, which means they can easily enter our waterways. They wash out of facial cleansers or toothpaste, right down the drain and then sail on through most sewage treatment facilities with no problem at all. Their small size makes them a big problem for the environment.
Beating the Microbead
Fortunately, there’s been some good news in the battle against the bead. For example, the U.S. has banned microbeads in personal care products, and Canada recently listed them as a toxic substance. Many personal care product manufacturers are also now phasing them out voluntarily.
As part of an international “Beat the Microbead” campaign in the cosmetics industry, many manufacturers now feature a green “Look for the Zero” logo on packaging, which indicates a guarantee that the product does not contain plastic microbeads.
According to beatthemicrobead.org, the Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza is the world’s first to carry the logo on all toiletries and cosmetics of their house-brand, Botanique. All of the personal care products they sell are also 100% microplastic-free.
Technology Lends a Hand
What’s more, the campaign also includes a free international smartphone app, published by the Plastic Soup Foundation, which enables consumers to scan barcodes of personal care products so they can easily check for the presence of microbeads.
Hopefully, more manufacturers will begin taking responsibility for the environmental impact of products containing not just microbeads, but various types of plastic packaging and harmful chemicals too. Until then, we can all do our research and make small, conscious choices with our pocketbooks to help speed that process along.