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Plastic Pollution: Micro-Beads from Body Scrubs Contaminating the Great Lakes

Plastic Pollution Water

Micro-beads are in many beauty products, and they are contributing to plastic pollution in our waterways. Learn more about them and how to avoid them.

Have you seen ads for body scrubs with “micro-bead technology?” That is marketing speak for “very small pieces of plastic.” Rather than use an organic material like to create scrubbiness, some companies use less expensive plastic to help slough away dead skin cells. The problem? All of that micro-plastic is creating a plastic pollution problem in the Great Lakes.

According to Digital Journal, you can also sometimes find micro-beads in your toothpaste. They explain how you can identify this ingredient on your cosmetics labels:

Micro-beads are plastic beads [usually referred to in cosmetics as polyethylene (PE), but can be also be made of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon] that are less than 5 mm in size, though personal care products such as facial/body scrubs and toothpaste generally use beads smaller than 1 mm.

When you scrub your face or body or brush your teeth, those micro-beads go down the drain and eventually make their way into our waterways, adding to the plastic pollution there.

Five Gyres Institute teamed up with SUNY Fredonia to test samples of water from The Great Lakes, especially Lake Eerie. They took 21 surface samples and found micro-bead plastic pollution in every single one. Because they’re so tiny, there can be hundreds of thousands of these things in a single container of body scrub or toothpaste.

Micro-Beads and Plastic Pollution: What You Can Do

When you’re shopping for beauty products, keep an eye out for micro-beads on the ingredients label. Many companies proudly tout this ingredient on the front of the label, but checking the ingredients list is the best way to be sure, even if this ingredient isn’t mentioned on the front of the package. Look out for:

  • polyethylene (PE)
  • polypropylene (PP)
  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
  • nylon

Of course, you don’t have to buy pre-made face and body scrubs. Here are some recipes for DIY scrubs that you can make at home:

Do you have a favorite recipe for a face or body scrub or DIY toothpaste? I’d love to hear yours in the comments!

Image Credit: Waste Water photo via Shutterstock

Written by Becky Striepe

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .

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