Plastic microbeds are particles the size of a grain of sand that are embedded in many personal care products to grant the items a gritty texture such as bath scrubs or certain toothpaste brands. But the problem with these particles is that they aren’t biodegradable and are designed by the industry to be simply flushed down the drain.
Researchers found traces of plastic microbeads in all types of environments from freshwater lakes to the sea, and their amount produced today is enormous.
According to a recent scientific paper signed by academics from seven institutions, microbead pollution has a solution in biodegradable and non-toxic materials. These materials are already used in toothpaste and face scrubs but they also up the price of the products.
One of the research paper’s authors Stephanie Green of the Oregon State University said that we have a plastic pollution problem that we aren’t even aware of.
“Part of this problem can now start with brushing your teeth in the morning,”
She also explained that wastewater treatment plants are not build to filter these tiny plastic particles so most of microbeads reach rivers and oceans. Unfortunately, the particles are not biodegradable and it may take hundreds of years before they vanish.
Researchers estimate that in the U.S. alone 8 trillion microbeds are flushed into river and marine ecosystems every day which is the equivalent of the size of 300 tennis courts. But that only accounts for 1 percent of the microbead pollution. The rest of the plastic microbeads (about 800 trillion) are released into the environment by wastewater treatment plants. Next, these fine particles make their way from land to the ocean through stream and runoff.
Study authors acknowledged that microbeads are not the only type of plastic that reaches the gut of aquatic animals and birds. Plastic from bottles, bags, and other items crumbled by ocean gyres are also part of the problem. But microbeads were often overlooked by conservationists whenever they tried to asses the severity of ocean plastic pollution.
Study authors now urge regulators to outlaw non-biodegradable microbeads from personal care products. Hopefully, microbead pollution can be easily controlled through legislation unlike other microplastic sources. In the wake of several awareness campaigns, companies have pledged to remove the plastic particles from their products, while several states banned them outrightly.
Image Source: Wikipedia