Micro Plastic Beads in Beauty Scrubs Contribute to Plastic Debris in Oceans

I was disappointed to read this article about polyethylene beads being used in conventional body scrubs such as Olay Body Wash Plus Spa Exfoliating Ribbons, Dove Gentle Exfoliating Foaming Facial Cleanser and Clean & Clear Daily Pore Cleanser.  I would have said shocked, but not much shocks me lately about what manufacturers put in their products.

Plastic in oceaSo what is the big deal about these plastic beads?  Polyethylene is considered a safer plastic as opposed to, say, polyvinyl chloride (aka PVC or vinyl).  But those micro beads go straight to the ocean – they are not filtered out by sewage treatment plants.  And plastic debris is killing our oceans.  Whether or not these beads contribute to the plastic debris killing our oceans is unknown. 

Why is plastic in our oceans a problem?  Plastic debris does not biodegrade, although it does break down into smaller and smaller pieces.  Plastic large and small clogs our oceans and poisons our marine life.  According to the Alguita Marine Research team, the swirling debris of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean has now grown to a size twice as large as the continental United States.  This debris is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

Small pieces of plastic pose a problem because they are mistaken for zooplankton – and there is now more than six times more plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch than zooplankton.  And one study found that there is 10 pounds of plastic for every one pound of zooplankton.

So what contribution do these beads make?  That I don’t know.  There isn’t any evidence that the small plastic beads are mistaken for zooplankton or harm aquatic life when consumed.  But, just think about all of the products that contain these beads, and how many are used each year.  Should we be adding to the plastic load in our oceans by intentionally washing these beads down the drain?

P&G responded to an inquiry on the subject by saying that “the average diameter of the particles (20 micrometers) is too large to penetrate the membranes of biological organisms or to even be biologically available to cause harm to wildlife organisms.”  But, that misses the point.  Why put such a product in a body scrub that is washed to the ocean?  The beads are too small to be filtered out by the sewage treatment process, so they are discharged to the ocean.  And while they may not directly harm wildlife, why would we want to contribute to the plastic loading of our oceans when so many other, more eco-friendly options are available?

I don’t use conventional body scrubs, having switched to other products awhile ago.  I also make my own when I want a scrub.  So, if you are using a body scrub with micro plastic beads, you might want to try one without – look for scrubs that get their scrubbing action from apricot kernels, corn meal, salt, etc.  For example, you might want to try Perfect Organics’ Ultimate Body Scrub – Hazelnut Coffee.  It is yummy, and uses organic corn meal for scrubbing!

Or, you can always make your own.  One easy recipe is to grind 1 tablespoon almonds in a food processor or coffee grinder.  Mix in 6 tablespoons cornmeal – you can either process or stir in a bowl.  Then add 2 tablespoons honey in a bowl (not the processor).  Add water if too dry.  Apply to face and let sit 5 minutes.  You can substitute oatmeal too.  A great body scrub is 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup jojoba oil, 1/4 cup castile soap (liquid) and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. 

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