The Reason Why You Should Never Use Microbeads Again

Our toothpastes and cleansers can be filled with microbeads—and that’s bad news for the environment.

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Facial wash scrub with microbeadsPhoto: Shutterstock

What Are Microbeads?

Microbeads are small plastic spheres found in cleansers and toothpastes, and are too small to be removed during waste-water treatment. They can build up in our lakes, rivers and oceans.

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Fish marketPhoto: Shutterstock

The Dangers of Microbeads

A March 2016 study also suggests that microbeads allow toxins to accumulate in the fish that ingest them. Researchers from universities in Australia and China fed fish beads laced with PBDEs, a common water contamin­ant. The scientists found that the fish displayed significant levels of the chem­ical in their bodies, proof that microbeads can leach pollutants into living tissue.

Although the study was conducted on freshwater fish taken from a river in Australia, the results have global implications. “We’d expect a similar outcome in most types of freshwater fish,” says Sherri Mason, a chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia who studies the presence of microplastics in fresh water.

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Facial wash scrub with microbeadsPhoto: Shutterstock

A Hopeful Outlook

Happily, microbeads were added to the federal government’s list of toxic substances last year, and a ban on the beads will likely be initiated in January 2018. In the meantime, avoid buying products with polyethylene (the type of plastic that microbeads are usually made of) and choose toiletries with natural exfoliants (such as sugar or nutshells). If you need to discard products, Mason suggests tossing your containers in the garbage. “Putting them in a landfill isn’t ideal, but you don’t want to pour them down the drain.”

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© 2016, Kimberly Leung. From Cottage Life (Winter 2016/2017), cottagelife.com.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada