Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Columns

May 5, 2014

CONFER: Microbeads are a danger to the environment

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Most people would think that because my livelihood is based in plastics I’d toe the industry line and wax poetic on the economic and social virtues of plastics of all sorts. This is not always the case.

As a producer of durables that are supposed to last a lifetime, I can’t help but view the manufacture and use of many disposables as questionable. Water bottles are one of those things that immediately come to mind.

U.S. consumers buy a staggering 30 billion of these throwaways (only 30 percent are recycled), something I consider to be environmentally and financially wasteful given that they can make a one-time purchase of a beverage container and get water almost for free out of their taps. Such nonsensical consumerism contributes to the 32 million tons of plastic waste put into landfills annually.

The latest and greatest threat posed by my peers in the industry concerns something that you can’t see but allegedly makes what (who) you can see that much more attractive: Microbeads.

Microbeads are, like the name implies, small particles of plastics. They come in sizes of 5 millimeters or less and are used in a variety of applications, the most popular being the abrasive base of exfoliating personal care products. The beads within facial scrubs, soaps and shampoos are far less than a millimeter in size. After going down your drain, they make it to municipal waste water treatment plants and are so small and buoyant that they are not caught by plants’ filters. Thus they make it into our rivers, lakes and oceans.

Though small in size, their total volume adds up in a hurry as they are a part of our everyday lives. When you think of all those exfoliating products in your household and how pervasive broadcast and print marketing is for those items (and beauty products in general), you realize that we’re not talking about a pittance of pollutants here.

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