Down the drain: Where have all the microbeads gone?

I’m sure at one point, all of us owned some kind of product with microbeads in it. I remember walking down the isles of the drugstore and seeing bottle after bottle of face wash filled with those little blue beads that promised softer, clearer skin.

But slowly they began disappearing.

Throughout the years, concerns related to the use of microbeads started to rise. Since these plastic beads were so small, there were concerns of whether or not they were making their way into our water supplies and being mistaken for food by fish and other wildlife.

At one point, it was estimated that 808 trillion of these tiny beads were going down American drains every day. Even when the water goes through a treatment plant, 99 percent of the beads would settle into the sludge, which was then used for fertilizer. Once that fertilizer was spread, with the help of runoff, those beads could still enter the water supply.

So, on December 18, 2015, Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. This act prohibited the production, packaging and distribution of cosmetics, such as face wash, body scrubs and toothpaste, that contain microbeads. There was no evidence that the beads had to potential to affect human health directly, the law was intended to address concerns of the beads getting into water supplies and affecting wildlife health.

Although this was passed in 2015, official deadlines for manufacturing companies were not until 2017, 2018 and 2019. According to the FDA website, this was so cosmetic and drug firms would have enough time to reformulate their products without microbeads.

Even though microbeads are out, that doesn’t mean you have to throw out your face wash or body scrub right away. Sugar, salt, sand and ground nut shells are all popular alternatives that are typically found in exfoliating products today.

Photo via: Oregon State University

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