Editorial: Limiting plastic use a good start

It’s time to do away with plastic microbeads in our cosmetics, cleansers and toothpastes.

It’s time to do away with plastic microbeads in our cosmetics, cleansers and toothpastes.

There is good reason to believe these plastic microbeads are already clogging up the bodies of miniscule marine life after being swept down the drains and excreted through ocean outfalls. Even in areas with sewage treatment (i.e. everywhere but Greater Victoria), the tiny flakes of plastic are still finding their way into the Great Lakes and other bodies of water in disturbing concentrations.

Europeans are ahead of North America in the fight against microplastics in everyday products. As an example, two Dutch-based advocacy groups launched an app in 2012 that identifies which products contain plastic microbeads (see BeatTheMicrobead.org).

But the momentum is shifting in North America. New Jersey recently banned the manufacture and sale of plastic microbeads in cosmetic product, and a ban already exists in Illinois; several other states are considering similar measures. Consumers are also getting more conscientious about plastic waste, and should be applauded for avoiding products that contain plastic beads.

But why do manufacturers continue to use plastic microbeads in their products? Exfoliation and esthetics are the advertised reasons, but it really comes down to cost-savings, which hardly justifies their continued use. It turns out natural exfoliants like rice, apricot seeds, nut shells and even bamboo work even better than microbeads for exfoliation because they have rough edges.

Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, The Body Shop, L’Oreal, Colgate-Palmolive and others are sensing the shift in direction and have already started phasing out microbeads in an effort to eliminate their use by 2015. Environment Canada is now studying the potential toxicity of microplastics, but government does has a way of dredging through any new regulatory measures.

In the meantime, avoid purchasing any products with polyethylene or polypropylene in the ingredients list. Aquatic life will thank you for it.