Microbeads: Tiny plastic, huge problem

October 3, 2016
Microbeads: Tiny plastic, huge problem
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Microbeads, those small plastic beads used in so many personal care products are having a serious negative impact on our fragile ecosystem. It’s even ending up in some of our food. So, why are these little plastic beads creating such a big problem and why should we care?


What are plastic microbeads?

Microbeads are tiny plastic balls commonly used as an exfoliating agent in cosmetics and personal care products, such as toothpaste1, makeup, lip gloss and nail polish2. In fact, about 1,147 personal care products contain micro-plastic particles3. The science and health industries have found uses for plastic microbeads as well.

Microbeads are usually smaller than 2mm and can be made out of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or nylon. A single product application can release up to 100,000 plastic microbeads4. For example, a tube of facewash alone can contain up to 330,000 plastic microbeads3. Think about the combined effects of all the products we use on a daily basis.


Why are microbeads used?

Plastic microbeads have been used since the 1970s and provide a “feel-good” tingling or clean sensation when used. They’re also used in whitening toothpastes to polish off stains and as an exfoliating agent in many skin care products. Unfortunately, that’s the only “feel-good” part. As the Plastic Soup Foundation wrote: Plastic, not so fantastic.


What are the effects?

“The growing problem of plastic microbeads accumulating in our lakes, rivers and oceans must be solved,” Meredith Brown, environmental engineer and head of Ottawa Riverkeeper, said in a news release6. The problematic plastic microbeads are so widespread that they’re now appearing in fresh water, in the St. Lawrence River7, in aquatic wildlife and even in beer.

Although Health Canada currently approves the use of microbeads in cosmetics, the real issue comes when they go down the drain and into our water. To give you an idea of how bad the problem’s getting:

  • New York state dumps about 19 tons of microbeads per year5.
  • Studies have shown that 90% of birds contain plastic microbeads in their stomach4.
  • The Story of Stuff Project reports that the minuscule particles absorb toxins in the water and make their way up to our food supplies.
  • Microbeads are so absorbent that they can be up to a million times more toxic than the surrounding water2.


What’s being done to solve this problem?

Thankfully, by 2017 it will be illegal to sell products that contain microbeads in the US. Many brands and manufacturers are now pledging to ban plastic microbeads from their products. However, they’re phasing them out slowly rather than stopping altogether.

In Canada, there’s a movement to ban plastic microbeads. Ontario was the first province to pass legislation against its use, and now the federal government is looking at legislation for a country-wide ban5. Although they may seem harmless, plastic microbeads are becoming a serious threat to our health and the environment.

The Green Beaver Company has never used microbeads. We believe that personal care and beauty products should be safe enough to use that they’re edible.


What can I do?

We can all do our share in eliminating plastic microbeads. Initiatives such as Plastic Free Oceans and Plastic Soup Foundation can help consumers make the right decision. This is why we have decided to join the Beat the Microbead campaign and app. Canadians deserve to know what they’re using and how it’s impacting their lives.

Download the Beat the Microbead app today and avoid buying plastic microbead-laced products. You can also join the Return the Microbead campaign and return all your existing products, along with a letter explaining your decision. This letter is available at http://upgyres.org/return-the-microbead/

I hope this post will help you make the right decision when purchasing personal care products.


#BeatTheMicrobead #GreenBeaverLifestyle #PlasticSoupFoundation #PlasticFreeOceans #GreenPeace #CanadianMade #SafeCosmetics #EnvironmentalDefence #AskGreenBeaver #BeatTheMicrobeadApp #MicroplasticFree





Alain Menard

Alain Ménard, microbiologist, co-founded The Green Beaver Company with biochemist Karen Clark. They were both appalled by the amount of chemicals found in kid’s shampoos, bubble baths and other products. With their new family in mind, they decided to do something about it. They left the pharmaceutical and pesticide industry behind to create healthier natural products. Alain regularly gives seminars on the potential health risks and environmental hazards associated with the chemicals found in everyday personal care products.

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