On December 28th 2015 President Obama signed, into law, H.R.1321 – Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. This act was in response to over a decade of products containing plastic microbeads and the acknowledgement that the majority of these 10mm plastic particles were bypassing water treatment facilities and ending up directly into our nations waterways. While these plastics are filtered during the process to purify tap water before it reaches homes they are increasingly being identified in seafood being caught commercially. Essentially the water you drink is plastic free but the seafood on your table may be contaminated. And that’s just a start. Non- Profit 5 Gyres suggests that mankind only recovers 5-10% of plastics we produce, and with only 50% making its way to landfills, well, the math doesn’t look good for the ocean.
In our previous article we touched on the importance of minimizing plastic waste and recycling in an effort to keep larger plastics from breaking down and becoming dangerous to marine life. Microbeads essentially are those plastics, right out of your personal care products and are readily ingested by marine life in all links of the food chain. According to 5Gyres, “A single plastic micro bead is 1 million times more toxic than the water around it.” Big fish eat little fish and little fish are often ingesting these tiny plastics confusing them for organic food sources.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act is a great start and it addresses many of our personal care products that may contain these dangerous plastics here in the United States. However, it gives companies several years to comply with the ban in order to phase out plastic microbeads and introduce products with biodegradable alternatives. Since the ban doesn’t immediately go into effect there are steps you can take to do your part in keeping these micro plastics out of your own local waterways and oceans.
For starters you can check the ingredient list on your exfoliating face cleanser or other cosmetics product for ingredients like Polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethyl methacrylate, and nylon. The prefix ‘Poly’ indicates a synthetic polymer that is a good indication of a plastic additive. These are generally marketed as body wash and face scrubs but these products can also be found in toothpaste and face masques as well.
So you have identified products you already own in the home but more importantly in order to get these products off the shelves faster, its paramount to not buy them in the first place. Beat the Microbead is a campaign initiated by the Plastic Soup Foundation and the North Sea Foundation to eliminate microbeads in cosmetics products found in stores. They have a handy app that allows you to scan UPC codes in store and compare it to their ever-growing database of products that contain microbeads.
To use the App simply scan the barcode of the product in question. If the item has already been registered the app will return a confirmation of microbeads (or not) in the product. If it hasn’t yet been scanned the app will ask you to take a photo of the front and the back so the team at Beat the Microbead can review and add it to the database.
The premise is simple; if these products aren’t selling in stores they will be discontinued long before the ban takes effect. Companies like Unilever and Proctor & Gamble simply won’t produce products that aren’t selling so this is an important step in taking action long before the official ban.
Don’t fret, even though this initiative started in 2012 and your local retailor is still full of products that contain microbeads it is also full of products that don’t. It’s important to keep these contaminants out of your grey water discharge, and holding tanks onboard since they are not readily filtered during wastewater treatment. So go green by going Poly-Free in your boating and household products, and keep your local ecosystem and dinner plate microbead safe.
Images and video courtesy of The 5 Gyres Institute