By: Penny Roberts, Independent Consultant with Arbonne International
Plastic Microbeads are polyethylene microspheres which became popular in the 1990’s and are widely used in products such as facial scrubs, toothpaste and body washes. Companies use the plastic microbeads because they are cheaper than the natural option.
Sherrie Mason, an environmental scientist with State University of New York – Fredonia found these beads showing up in the stomachs of Great Lakes perch and fish-eating birds. Last year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin reported that there were 1,500 to 1.7 million plastic particles per square mile in the Great Lakes. Microbeads accounted for 90 percent of these plastics.
Why should Floridians care?
A 2010 study by Tokyo University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution tested plastic pieces from 140 beaches in 40 countries. Researchers found chemical toxins such as PCBs in every sample. “Microplastics can change what type of bacteria are in sea water,” reports Koty Sharp, a microbiology professor at Eckerd College. That can alter the most fundamental part of the aquatic food chain, she said. And if seabirds, fish and other marine creatures consume it, the microplastics may prevent them from absorbing what they need from the food they eat.
Other scientists have raised concern about human consumption of fish contaminated by these plastic microbeads. Lorena Rios, a University of Wisconsin Chemist, expressed concern that the plastic is absorbing pollutants from the water and air that are linked to cancer. As with all toxins, once ingested by wildlife, these compounds can increase in toxicity as they move up the food chain.
What can you do?
Stop using products that contain plastic microbeads. If you are unsure whether the product you use contains plastic microbeads, check the ingredients label and look for the term, “polyethylene.” You can also support legislation that bans their unnecessary use. In June of this year, Illinois passed a bill phasing out the sale of cosmetics containing plastic microbeads. California, New York, Ohio and a few other states have their own bills pending.
Penny Roberts is an Independent Consultant with Arbonne International, a manufacturer of over 400 botanically-based personal care products that are crafted with beneficial ingredients and are free of polyethylene glycol, phthalates, parabens, animal by-products, formaldehyde-donating preservatives and other harmful chemicals. If you have any questions, send Penny an email.