Face scrub micro-beads are choking the Great Lakes

Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes, a new paper in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, looks at the prevalence of micro-plastic beads, thought to originate with face-scrub, in the great lakes. These beads pass through water-treatment processing, and have long been suspected in freshwater pollution. The paper has occasioned a pledge from several big cosmetics companies to phase out the use of beads in their products. Five Gyres, an NGO that worked on the paper with SUNY Fredonia, has proposed model legislation banning the use of microplastics in consumer products. In the meantime, they've got an app that helps you find products that are free from microplastics.

The highest abundance measured was 466,000 particles/km2 with an average of 43,000 particles/km2 throughout all the samples. The highest concentrations of micro-plastics were observed in Lake Erie, and accounted for about 90% of the total plastics found. In addition to polyethylene and polypropylene beads found in the samples, there were also particles of aluminum silicate, or coal ash, a byproduct of coal fired power plants. With these findings, The 5 Gyres Institute launched a Corporate Social Responsibility campaign last year asking the manufacturers of personal care products to pledge to remove these plastic microbeads from their products. Faced with this preliminary evidence, now solidified by the scientific paper’s publication in a peer-reviewed journal, many of the companies targeted have agreed to phase out the use of these beads, namely, L’Oreal, The Body Shop, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble. Though a tremendous victory for The Great Lakes, 5 Gyres recognizes the need for further engagement. Several states and municipalities have expressed a desire to consider legislation banning micro-plastics as ingredients in consumer products because of their tendency to escape sewage treatment. 5 Gyres is working with a team of advisors to produce model legislation for states to consider.

5 Gyres Publishes First Scientific Paper On Plastic Pollution In The Great Lakes [Stiv Wilson/Five Gyres]

(via Naked Capitalism)

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  1. CLamb says:

    I was only able to read the abstract because I didn't want to pay to read the paper. It said that 20% of the particles were aluminum silicate from coal burning and the remainder were believed to be from cosmetic products. I would love to see further analysis to confirm or disprove this origin. In order to know if this is a problem or not one needs to know how long these particles last in the natural environment and what, if any, are the harmful effects from them.

  2. Oh, it's awfully heartwarming of some cosmetics companies to decide to "phase out" microbeads now that they've discovered they were harmful. That seems awfully fair, I'm sure other industries would love to follow the model. Discover e. coli contamination in beef? We'll start phasing out the use of the contaminated beef. Poorly made Baby-walkers killing kids? No worries, we'll be phasing out that model.

  3. I'm not sure why the 'aquatic ecosystem' is being so whiny about a gentle, but vigorous, exfoliation that will leave its skin looking and feeling its best, all day long... People pay for that sort of thing, you know.

  4. There are some instances of overt failure-to-treat; but most historical wastewater infrastructure (and some current) is biased heavily toward some flocculation and settling to get the solids, along with the appropriate conditions to encourage decomposition of biological material, and a shift in the microbial balance toward the non-pathogenic decomposers and away from parasites and pathogens.

    Unless you are willing to get out the checkbook, in a serious way, "treatment plant" doesn't imply some sort of broad-spectrum filtration, unless specially fitted for chemical plant wastewater or the like. It's mostly about solving the old 'drinking your own shit makes you sick' problem. That's a major part of the concern about 'unconventional' waste (certain plastics, pharmaceuticals and metabolites, heavy metals and persistent toxins, that sort of thing) that largely survive conventional processing unchanged.

  5. Because government, especially local government, should happily clean up whatever the soap factories want to put into their product.

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