By Liz Dwyer
Forget all those advertising promises of glowing, blemish-free skin or sparkling-white teeth. If you're still using personal care products that contain microbeads, you're washing your face or brushing your teeth with plastic. As this two-minute animated video from the folks over at The Story of Stuff reminds us, the tiny balls aren't proven to be a boon to your beauty, but they are a serious environmental disaster.
That's because the microscopic spheres, which can be found in plenty of facial soaps and scrubs—acne treatments tend to be chock-full of them—body washes, and toothpastes, are made from a material called polyethylene. Yes, that's the same plastic manufacturers use to make everything from soda bottles to food containers to garbage bags.
Plastic bottles or containers aren't naturally biodegradable, but at least they can be tossed into a recycling bin. Microbeads, however, are smaller than a grain of sand, which means they can't even be filtered by sewage treatment facilities. It's pretty horrifying to watch the animation of the small spheres floating down a bathroom drain, into our waterways, and into fish—which we then eat. "How's that for the circle of life?" asks the video's narrator.
Thanks to the work of environmental activists, states such as Illinois have passed—or are in the process of passing—legislation that phases out the sale of toothpastes or soaps that contain microbeads. The movement is going national. Earlier in May the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 was introduced in Congress. The law would mandate a national ban on the inclusion of microplastics in personal care products.
But by the time that legislation works its way through Congress and gets passed—if it gets passed—billions more microbeads could be polluting our waterways. What's a conscious consumer to do in the meantime? Vote with your wallet. As the clip shows, companies began replacing more natural ingredients with microbeads to increase profits. That means if people refuse to buy products that contain the little balls, it simply won't make financial sense to produce them anymore.