This month we’re talking about plastics – the obvious places we find them and the not-so-obvious. One of the sneaky places plastics are lurking is in our beauty products. Not in the packaging, but in the products themselves.
Let us introduce you to microbeads, the little balls of plastic that are known for their exfoliation and scrubbing abilities that can be found in your face and body washes, and even toothpaste.
Lindsay Dahl has been working at the forefront of environmental health campaigns since 2004 and is passionate about eliminating toxic chemicals in consumer products through policy and market shifts. She is also a blogger and self proclaimed rabble-rouser so we talked to her about why we should say “no thank you” to microbeads.
So Lindsay, why are microbeads so bad?
According to the advocacy group Plastic Free Seas, the average person washes 17,000 bits of plastic down the drain every time they use a face wash with plastic microbeads. Plastic pollution advocacy group 5 Gyres notes that in the U.S. 8 billion plastic microbeads are released into the environment each day. That adds up to nearly 3 trillion microbeads each year. Microbeads cannot be filtered by most wastewater treatment facilities, so they flow from your bathroom sink into lakes and rivers. The plastics in the oceans are able to absorb toxic chemicals – they can absorb more than 1 million times the toxins than the water around it!
Most of the plastic microbeads are sourced from petroleum feedstock and some of these plastics leach hormone disrupting chemicals. Microbeads are also impacting the food we eat – approximately 663 different fish species are polluted with microbeads.
Wow, it sounds like microbeads are a big problem. Has there been any legislative action?
Yes! In response to a brilliant campaign by 5 Gyres and their allied organizations, Senator Ben Allen of my home state of California led the charge to ban plastic microbeads from personal care products in our state. Congress built on the momentum from the California bill and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand from New York and Fred Upton from Michigan passed a bipartisan federal ban on plastic microbeads in personal care products. The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 prohibits the sale of plastic microbeads in personal care products beginning on January 1, 2018 and amends the otherwise weak and outdated 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act.
Canada followed suit in the summer of 2016 and instituted a ban that will also begin in January of 2018. The U.K., Australia and some E.U. countries are considering bans, showing the domino effect of environmental legislation.
That all sounds great! What are individual companies doing?
Many companies have taken a stand against using plastic microbeads by either changing their formulations or choosing to never use microplastic in their skincare. Leading safer beauty brands use a host of naturally exfoliating materials like jojoba beads, sugar and ground nuts.
Many of us probably already have some products that contain plastic microbeads. How do we properly dispose of them?
As you start to switch to safer personal care products, do not dispose of the “goop” inside the bottle by squeezing it down the drain or into the toilet. Instead, place the bottle in your recycling bin with the remaining product still inside. This will prevent excess plastic microbeads from entering our waterways.
I take heart knowing that there are many companies, elected officials and women at the Savvy Women's Alliance willing to learn, share and vote with your dollar. We’re entering an exciting and much needed time in our history where companies must take into consideration the environment and public health impacts when creating their products.