Unless you live in the woods and make your own soap, there’s a good chance you’ve been using products that contain microbeads. The beads are great for adding a scrubby texture and exfoliating feel to liquids and gels. Unfortunately, they’re also really good at messing up the environment. For this reason, Congress has just approved a total ban on microbeads.
Personal product manufacturers have been adding microbeads to toiletries like toothpaste, face wash, shower gel, and hand soap for years. They were designed to be washed down the drain, and they last a very long time. Their small size means that they can slip right through wastewater treatment filters and into our waterways. And there are a lot of them: Researchers estimate that we’re releasing 11 billion microbeads into our waters every single day.
The arrival of plastic in the water is bad enough, but what it does next is even worse. Plastic attracts chemicals from the surrounding waters. The chemicals stick to the microbeads, which are then swallowed by animals, which are swallowed by other animals.
"By the time the plastic gets downstream towards the ocean, they become these toxic pills," science educator Marcus Eriksen told CBS. "Big fish eat little fish, eventually the fish is on your dinner plate, and you're eating that fish, along with all the toxins it consumed along the way."
Unlike many Congressional decisions, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 was approved pretty quickly. “There was a lot of support, and there wasn’t much opposition,” New Jersey congressman Frank Pallone told The New York Times. Under the new ban, manufacturers have until July 2017 to completely rid their products of microbeads.
In the meantime, you can get a head start by choosing microbead-free products. As the evidence against microbeads began to pile up, many companies voluntarily pledged to stop using them. For a list of those companies, click here.