It’s plastic free July and in our quest to help people reduce their use of plastic we wanted to provide some valuable info on microplastics. You may have heard the term “microplastics” and while you know microplastics aren’t good, you aren’t exactly sure what they are, why they aren’t good or how you can avoid them. Well, if that’s you you’ve come to the right place. Or you may know exactly what microplastics are and want to learn what you can do to reduce this growing problem - if that’s you, welcome as well. Now that you’re here we’ll try to make this a short and sweet primer because as they say, knowledge is power.
WHAT ARE MICROPLASTICS?
The term, “microplastics” refers to small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long. These tiny pieces of plastic can come from multiple consumer products including from larger plastic that’s thrown away and degrades into smaller and smaller pieces and microbeads or very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products like toothpastes and cleansers.
WHAT PRODUCTS CONTAIN MICROPLASTICS?
Those tiny pieces of manufactured microplastics, known as microbeads, are typically used as abrasives or exfoliants or scrubbing tools and are found in toothpaste, moisturizers, lotions, deodorants, sunscreens and makeup. To see if a product has microbeads you can check the ingredient list and look for the most common microbead ingredients: Polyethylene (PE); Polyethylene terephthalate (PET); Nylon (PA); Polypropylene (PP); and Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). There are also databases like this one that list products containing microbeads.
WEREN'T MICROPLASTICS BANNED?
In 2015, President Obama signed The Microbead-Free Waters Act which required companies to stop manufacturing products containing microbeads as of July 2017. Stores were prohibited from selling beauty products containing microbeads as of July 2018. Microbeads in holistic/natural health products and non-prescription drugs were banned in 2019. Unfortunately, many personal care products are still being made with microplastics. And even worse many advertise they do not contain microbeads but a quick review of the actual ingredients shows they still do!
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH MICROPLASTICS?
HOW DO MICROPLASTICS HARM THE ENVIRONMENT?
Microplastics don’t dissolve in water, which is why they work so well at cleaning the oil and dirt out of our pores. However, because they are so small, the microbeads are not filtered out by wastewater treatment plants. That means they end up in water streams by the trillion.
Once in the water, unfortunately, they then enter the food chain. The microbeads used in many self-care products are the same size as fish eggs — food for many marine life.
A 2013 study listed over 250 species of marine wildlife that have mistakenly eaten the microbeads. "Microbeads are highly damaging to the natural environment and the wildlife that live there," the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a press release. The microbeads not only deprive animals of needed nutrients but also can cause pain and death. These microbeads also absorb toxic chemicals which means they are toxic to wildlife that eat them and the humans that may eat fish that consumed the beads. Don’t eat fish? Does not matter. Scientists also found microplastics in table salt :(
WHAT DO MICROPLASTICS DO TO HUMANS?
The short answer is we don’t totally know yet. In lab tests, microplastics have been shown to cause damage to human cells, including allergic reactions and cell death. But so far there have been no studies large enough to really tell what impact microplastics have on our health. Smaller studies have found microplastics in people’s blood, lungs and placentas. We’re not scientists but this doesn’t seem good and honestly why wait around to find out the inevitable truth that these tiny bits of plastic are harmful. We’re ready to step away now.
HOW CAN I AVOID / REDUCE MICROPLASTICS?
Probably the most important question is how do we reduce microplastics in the world?
A great start is to check out the label to see if a product uses microbeads; look for these ingredients: Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon (PA). You can also find online lists that show products containing microbeads. And when shopping, look for natural exfoliants like oats, salt, yogurt, sugar or coffee grounds.
And another easy way to help reduce the scary big amount of microplastics in the world? Simpy stop adding more plastic to the world. A source of microplastics is larger plastic that degrades. With less plastic out there we will have less microplastics.
One painless way to do this? Say no to all single use drinks and disposable water bottles by carrying a bkr glass water bottle with you wherever you go. Choose the size that works best for all the times you might be tempted to reach for plastic- whether it’s a teeny dream bkr in a little purse, a spiked little teddy for yoga or a big doe next to you while you work from home. And did you see that we have the cutest straws ever?! By buying yourself a cute bkr with custom straws you can make sure you never reach for plastic again.
So the moral of the story is microplastics are bad for the earth and our health, but together we can do our part to reduce plastic and a great way to start begins right here.