There is no way to put it gently. Plastic is harmful to human life, wildlife and the environment. Some plastic needs to exist for purposes higher than everyday use, at least for now, but there is so much more that we could do without if only we tried harder.
“Use restricted to needs only” would be a good policy to have for plastic. Reasons are many and indisputable.
Many of us are too aware of the plastic storm that’s taken over the world. On land and in water, plastic starts reigning supreme and so does our dependency on it.
Landfills abound with broken plastic toys, discarded plastic household items, plastic and Styrofoam cups and plates, and the ocean garbage patches are growing bigger by the day. In all sizes that is, some more visible than others.
The newest plastic threat is partially invisible.
A recent expedition to the Great Lakes brought the 5Gyres Institute specialists face to face with a brutal reality: in some areas of the Lakes scientists found more than 600,000 plastic micro-beads per square kilometer. Micro-beads are as big as a grain of sand or smaller, think half a millimeter or so.
They are the gently scrubbing bits that leave your face or body smooth and your teeth polished. Plastic micro-beads are listed as polyethylene or polypropylene and they are usually found at the top of the ingredients list.
With the use of a single container of facial scrub, the average consumer can put about 300,000 micro-beads down the drain, but some, the researchers said, can go up to 360,000. This is a collective nightmare.
Micro-beads cannot be removed by filters at sewage treatment plants and as a result they float away.
Floating means at least two things with long-term and serious consequences:
• They mimic food for marine animals, from the smallest upward and they get consumed as such.
• Their porous surface allow pollutants such as PCBs, hydrocarbons, DDT and flame-retardants to attach to them and the result is a coated micro-bead that will end up as deadly cocktail, ready to be consumed by marine creatures and ultimately reaching their final destination: the human body.
But here’s the good news: All is not lost. There is time to act and there are ways to do it.
The aggressive anti-micro-bead campaign spearheaded by 5Gyres has made some of the cosmetic manufacturers look into retiring such products in the near future. Until then though, there are plenty of stores stocking their shelves with polypropylene and polyethylene-containing scrubs as we speak and all those millions of micro-beads will end up in our lakes and oceans unless individuals become aware of the problem and take action.
Here are a few things you can do to help:
- Don’t buy any face or body scrubs or toothpaste that have polypropylene or polyethylene in their ingredients list. Opt for the ones that contain natural replacements such as apricot or avocado pits.
- Given that most mainstream face and body scrubs contain some other potentially harmful chemicals, why not make your own using natural ingredients such as baking soda, brown sugar oatmeal, or coffee. A simple search with key words “homemade natural scrub” will give you plenty of ideas. Use organic ingredients whenever possible.
- Ask retail stores in your neighborhood to stop carrying cosmetics that contain plastic micro-beads and find better products that are good for people, wildlife and the environment instead.
- Talk to your family and friends, spread the word about why the plastic micro-beads are damaging. The positive impact is often bigger than expected because knowledge is the first step toward making changes.
- As always, think twice before buying anything made of plastic. Most of it will end up in the landfill or in a lake or an ocean somewhere.
- Daniela Ginta, MSc
Daniela is a freelance writer presently based in Kamloops, BC, Canada. She writes on a variety of topics, from parenting to health and fitness, but her main interest lies in researching and developing environmental topics. You can visit Daniela at www.thinkofclouds.com or follow her on Google+ or Twitter.
Photo Credits: The 5Gyres Institute