New research released in the Marine Pollution Bulletin has emerged that points to microbeads as one of the leading culprits in the pollution of the Great Lakes.

 

Microbeads in Face Scrubs (plastictides.wordpress.com)

Microbeads are the plastic beads that are added to soaps to exfoliate skin; they range anywhere from 0.0004 to 1.24 millimeters. For each bottle of soap that contains these microbeads, you could be putting as many as 330,000 microbeads down the drain.

Most of these microbeads are just small enough that water filters do not end up actually filtering them out before they make their way to the Great Lakes.

 

According to IFL Science, “While Lake Michigan had an average of 17,000 microbeads per square kilometer, some areas of Lake Ontario had as many as 1.1 million beads per square kilometer.”

 

The damage is more than you might expect. These tiny beads are being mistake by fish as fish eggs, which they then consume. After a while, the fish’s intestines get blocked up with plastic, and they starve to death as a result. Microbeads are also starting to coat the floor of the lake.

 

Getting rid of the plastic already in the lake is near impossible. Because they are the same size as zooplankton — the base of the food chain in the lakes — there is no way to be sure to get rid of the plastic without also devastating the zooplankton and, therefore, the overall food chain.

 

Unilever announced that they plan to phase out microbeads from their products. L’Oreal,  Johnson & Johnson, and Colgate-Palmolive also announced that they will follow suit, and replace microbeads with natural alternatives like seasalt.

 

The phasing out of microbeads from facial products does not fully deal with the issue at hand, however, as most companies will likely switch to some other form of beads that might have similar affects on the wildlife.

 

What do you think of this new research? What do you think should be done? Will you stop using soaps with microbeads in them? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @kateeb790