Although these tiny little beads may not seem at first glance as much of a threat, even US President Barack Obama has acknowledged their potential environmental impact, claiming that his decision came from the fact that banning microbeads will greatly benefit the environment. These types of small spherical items can be found in face cleansing scrubs, toothpaste, or exfoliating creams.
What the general public may not be entirely aware of is the fact that these beads are made from the same material as regular plastic bags and bottles, Polyethylene. This material is in no way a “Special” cosmetic compound specifically designed to soften the skin, it basically acts as an added abrasive element in order to remove dead skin particles. They could be simply replaced with sand or other micro-sized objects and the creams’ effect would remain the same.
The reason why these microbeads were banned was because after using toothpaste or scrubs that contain them, they will eventually go down the drain and reach open waters. The fact that it clearly states on the bottle or case that these beads should not be ingested can also be applied to fish. But fish do not possess the capability of discerning between plant molecules or plankton and these beads, thus ingesting them.
Because polyethylene is not degradable, these beads will remain in the fish’s gut, and can even eventually wind up back on our plate. Besides this, it can lead to severe complication within the animal’s system, often leading to their death if a lot of microbeads are ingested. And this is not entirely rare if one would take into account that just one cosmetic product contains over 300,000 beads on average.
For example, only in the New York area, over 17 tons of polyethylene microbeads get washed ashore every year. This phenomenon is not only limited to densely populated areas like NYC because these beads get carried by water currents that can eventually lead back to inland lakes and rivers, thus contaminating more and more animals along the way.
A recent study was conducted in order to somewhat tell how many plastic beads get flushed on average across the US territory. The numbers released were staggering to say the least, with 8 trillion microbeads going down the drain on a day-to-day basis. Taking into account that cosmetic products containing these beads have been commercialized for over 10 years up to this point, the amount of microbeads present in oceans and seas is immense to say the least.
After this ban was instated, manufacturers will have to start producing bio-degradable beads if they still want to commercialize face scrubbing creams or other microbead-based products. Several Eco-friendly alternatives are also available on the market for those that specifically require these types of cosmetic products.
But at least banning microbeads will greatly benefit the environment, effectively stopping people from disposing of them in waters or nature in general. But they are still present within oceans, rivers, and lakes. Now that their numbers will no longer increase, scientists and researchers have to come up with a way to dispose of those that are still at large.