Today, we celebrate a significant win for ocean conservation. A few weeks ago, The United States Congress was able to pass a bill called “The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.” This effectively bans the use of microbeads in beauty products starting in July, 2017. These microbeads are commonly found in exfoliating products and toothpastes. They’re also commonly found in our oceans.
Because of their small size, microbeads typically are missed by water treatment plants and end up in large numbers in the ocean. Though they alone are not toxic to marine life, these tiny beads attract and adhere to chemicals that are toxic, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Therefore, microbeads act as a vector in marine environments to attract and transmit toxic particles up the food chain. Their elimination from the manufacturing process of common beauty products is a win not only for conservationists but for marine ecosystems worldwide.
Still, it’s important to note that this does not represent the end of plastic pollution. Microbeads are just a fraction of the total amount of plastic that enters into our oceans, injuring and killing fish, turtles, shorebirds, plankton, and dolphins. Microbeads were also what Marcus Eriksen, cofounder and director of research for 5 Gyres, referred to as “low-hanging fruit.” Getting policy makers to ban these materials was relatively easy compared to some of the other decisions that will need to be made about our plastic consumption. That being said, a win is a win. Let’s celebrate this instance of Congress agreeing on something that benefits our oceans and use it as a launching point for subsequent campaigns against other sources of plastic pollution.
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