Microbeads: These Things Belong in the Landfill

From the December 14, 2015 issue of online publication Waste Dive:

A bill that would completely ban the manufacturing or sale of bath products and cosmetics containing microbeads by 2019 is pending a final approval from the U.S. Senate this week before heading to President Obama’s desk. If a vote is quickly made and the bill is signed, it could be made a law before the year’s end. (Read more.)

For years, many soaps, scrubs, and other personal care products have included, as an exfoliating agent, tiny plastic beads. These microbeads enter the wastewater system, where they are too small for most filtration systems to remove them. So they enter our lakes, streams, and groundwater and, because they are plastic, they attract toxins. As a result:

  • They pollute our water.
  • They make their way into the food chain.
  • They poison the animals that mistake them for food.
  • They may end up on your dinner plate, and perhaps your drinking water.

Learn more about microbeads here and here.

How can you tell whether a product contains microbeads? Look at the label: polyethylene or polypropylene means that the product contains plastic. Sometimes you need only look at the front of the package: if it says microbeads, there’s your clue.

For lists of products that contain microbeads, click here and here. For microbead-free products, click here. (Note: these lists are not exhaustive.) To examine a specific product’s ingredients list, search the web for the product name. The manufacturer’s website may list the ingredients, and I’ve found this information for many products on drugstore.com.

Several years ago, before I ever heard about microbeads, I purchased a facial scrub. Great exfoliant — I loved it! I picked up a couple more tubes so I wouldn’t run out.

Then I learned — it contains microbeads. Much as I hate to throw anything into the trash, that’s where this product is going, right to the landfill. At least there it will be kept out of our groundwater and sewer systems.

If you’re interested in following the waste management industry — landfills, collections, recycling, waste-to-energy, and much more — consider signing up for Waste Dive’s daily online newsletter. More information is available here.

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