After washing your face or having a shower, tiny plastic beads have been flushed down your drain. Our waterways are now filled with microbeads because they’re too small for our sewer systems to filter.
In addition to increasing to physical pollution, microbeads carry toxins from our sewer systems. They sit at the bottom of our lakes and rivers where fish eat them thinking they’re food. Because plastic isn’t digestible, these tiny plastics clog intestines, starving fish.
All of these events are stirring a lot of concern for the health and safety of our food, our drinking water, and our ecosystem.
How did this happen?
Industry started using microbeads back in the 1970s. They became popular in consumer products more recently.
Today, it’s quite common to find facial cleansers, body washes, and toothpastes with microbeads on store shelves. With claims to exfoliate and invigorate, consumers are easily lured in.
A single bottle of product contains approximately 300,000 microbeads, says 5 Gyres. Since these skin products are common, it’s not surprising to find large numbers of microbeads in the wastewater that flows from our homes. And because wastewater ends up in the Great Lakes, microbeads end up there, too.
In 2012 and 2013, 5 Gyres and chemist Sherri Mason took samples from the Great Lakes to check on plastic concentrations in each lake. Lake Ontario offered up the most alarming results. The researchers found more than 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometre.
So what can be done?
We don’t know if or how we can get microplastics out of the lakes. But we do know how to prevent more microbeads from washing into our waterways and making the situation worse.
That’s one reason Waterkeeper is asking you to pledge to stop purchasing products containing microbeads.
By getting rid of microbeads, you’re creating a more swimmable, drinkable, fishable future. Thank you!
With research by Sara Elcombe.