While macroplastics (think bottles, bags, wrappers...) are easy to spot and clearly polluters, microplastics seem to be a much bigger problem that you may think. When plastic is abandoned to the elements (aka litter!), it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces over time. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is like microplastic soup. This is what the fish and even smaller organisms are eating, and what can end up in our food and water supply. When it breaks down, the plastic leaches toxins. All bad business.
Which leads me to microbeads.
Did you know the US banned microbeads in many products in 2015? This ban began taking effect last year and is still in various phases. Talk about a confusing thing to research. I will let you find out details on your own, to spare current yawns.
The good news: straight up plastic microbeads are not in these products. I tested the 3 face washes my daughter still has (future purchases will not be in plastic!), and found that after soaking, many of the beads did in fact dissolve after several days.
The bad news: some alternatives to the plastic microbeads aren’t much better. The synthetic wax in the first product is so hard and, after more research (accompanied by a teenager comment of “Mom, you’re being so weird”) I found that some alternatives seem a little environmentally sketchy.
Then there are microfibers.
These are tiny little fibers that wash out of our synthetic (read: plastic) clothing, such as nylon, rayon and polyester. They make their way to waterways, since they are so small and mostly missed by treatment facilities. Once they make it to streams and oceans, they are mistaken for food by the smallest of creatures, plankton and the like that are an important part of the food chain. They eat the plastic, which clearly has no nutritional value and is detrimental to their health (stomach full of plastic? Not so great). While feeding on plankton and other small organisms, fish and other sea life ingest the plastic. Who eats the plastic in the end? We do when we sit down to our fish dinner.
So what to do we do? When purchasing new or second-hand clothes, look for natural fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, hemp and bamboo. Wash synthetic fabrics only when you have to; the fewer the washes, the fewer occasions for microfibers to be released. Hand washing seems to release less as well.
Here are some more handy tips: 15 Ways to Stop Microfiber Pollution
Check out this article and video to learn more about microfibers.