The Plastic Soup Foundation, an organization working to better the quality of ocean water by eliminating plastic waste, has recently encountered a major setback: microbeads.
Yes, the small, almost invisible beads in personal care products such as toothpaste, face wash and shaving cream are in fact made of plastic. After they have washed your face or brushed through your teeth, these small beads flush down the drain and sink to the bottom of lakes and oceans around the world. The inability of sewage systems to filter these tiny non-biodegradable plastic particles has proven detrimental to marine environments by not only contaminating the water, but also by endangering sea creatures that are unfortunate enough to consume them.
Canadian biologist Lisa Erdle began collecting water samples in Lake Ontario to analyze the amount of damage that these tiny particles were having on the marine ecosystem, and after a couple of months of work, her results were terrifying. The state of New York alone dumps 19 tons of these toxic beads into the surrounding bodies of water every year. These numbers do not apply to New York alone. Once in a body of water, microbeads become a part of the marine food chain, affecting every single human across the globe.
Johnson & Johnson and The Body Shop, along with other major care product companies, voluntarily terminated their use of microbeads soon after the announcement was made. However, smaller companies refused to follow in their footsteps, claiming that their products were perfectly safe and had undergone all necessary and legal testing, which was technically true, since there were no laws explicitly banning microbeads at the time.
Although legislations were passed banning the use of microbeads in many European countries, and as of last month Canada as well, states in the U.S. are falling behind in prohibiting the use and manufacturing of these products. California, Illinois and four other states have recently passed laws banning microbead products, but why are the other 44 states taking so long?
European countries have been campaigning to ban microbeads since 2011, the beat microbead campaign has been in action since 2012, yet it is almost the end of 2015 and the United States government is barely proposing a ban on these toxic particles. If the recent bill were to pass, it would still not be in effect until 2020, meaning 95 more tons of microbeads coming from New York state alone would be in our oceans’ waters.
The inability of states, and the U.S. as a nation, to come together and ban something so clearly toxic and endangering to our most indispensable life source, is concerning to say the least. Other nations responded to this environmental crisis much more quickly, which only highlights the inefficiency of American politics.
This leaves the responsibility to the consumers. We have to be aware of what we are buying and using, and what effects it is having on our environment, especially because it will affect us directly. And with approximately 360,000 microbeads in one single bottle of Neutrogena’s Deep Clean face wash, there really is no time to waste.