How Microbeads In Body Wash Are Ruining The Ocean

Microbeads make your skin feel great, but once you're done with them where do they go?

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A number of studies on microbeads--the tiny plastic spheres found in many facial exfoliating scrubs--are finding that they could be causing a major environmental hazard. A study in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin found that because they're mostly made of plastic and don't biodegrade, they may be resulting in up to 80 tons of plastic waste per year. Because they're small and buoyant, they end up passing through sewage treatment plants and polluting oceans and lakes. Another study, published by the journal Environmental Science & Technology, estimates the number of them that end up in water systems is nothing short of shocking: eight trillion per day. The beads that don't make it past water filtration plants end up in sludge that's often used as fertilizer. From there, they run the chance of getting caught up in run-off water as well.

The journal Global Change Biology found that as many as half of the ocean's turtles ingest plastic during their lifetime. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study which found that 90 perfcent of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs, up from just 10 percent when a similar study was done 30 years ago. Environmental researchers think that fish might mistake the beads for food, eat them, then mistakenly think they're full. Plus plastic can poison the animals or lead to blockages in their intestines, both potentially deadly outcomes. They can increase concentrations of toxic chemicals already present in seawater: Their small size makes them act like little sponges that soak up toxins which can accumulate in sea life and--some researchers speculate--be passed on to people.

Learn More:
90 Percent of Seabirds Have Plastics in Their Gut (Discovery)
"About 90 percent of seabirds today have plastic in their bodies, according to researchers who point out that there are 360,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile in most of the world's oceans."

Leading scientists express rising concern about 'microplastics' in the ocean (Science Daily)
"Microplastics are of increasing concern because of their widespread presence in the oceans and the potential physical and toxicological risks they pose to organisms."