Researchers at University of California/Davis and Oregon State University found that the tiny polyethylene microbeads embedded in many popular personal care products from toothpaste to body scrubs contribute significantly to oceanic plastic pollution without us even knowing it.
Scientists argued that the plastic beads are non-biodegradable and tiny enough to dodge wastewater treatment plants’ filters and make their way into the oceans through our waterways.
The research team believes that the only solution is a nationwide ban of the microbeads so that producers switch to greener technologies. In the U.S. alone, about 8 trillion microbeads are flushed down the drain on a daily basis, a new study revealed. The amount is large enough to cover 300 tennis courts, scientists estimate.
What’s more, that number represents only 1 percent of the microbeads that reach the environment since 800 trillion of the tiny plastic bits reach sludge every day from where they are carried to oceans and waterways through runoff.
“We’re facing a plastic crisis and don’t even know it,”
noted Stephanie Green, lead author of the study and researcher at Oregon State University’s College of Science.
Green added that the problem starts with everyone of us when we brush our teeth in the morning with one of those flashy abrasive toothpastes. And, the plastic beads in those products most of the times have just a decorative role, dentists say.
Chelsea Rochman of the University of California/Davis and co-author of the recent analysis, explained that the particles usually reach oceans and the guts of marine animals there. Besides, they are highly toxic and non-biodegradable.
Rochman said that her team conducted a series of experiments and found that microplastics can carry toxic compounds into animal’ bodies and from there on to our food supply.
The team now advocates for a federal ban on the microbeads, although there are some states such as Illinois that outlawed them from personal care products. Fortunately, microbead pollution is more controllable than other types of plastic pollution.
Several companies pledged that they would remove the beads from their products and replace them with natural, biodegradable alternatives.
Nevertheless, conservationists say that producers could dodge regulations by using the right wording. For instance, a ban may target microbeads that rinse off, but some products contain plastic beads that do not fall under that category such as antiperspirants or cleaners. Additionally, some producers may claim that their microbeads are biodegradable when they are only partially biodegradable and so on.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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