It is one thing to talk about plastic bags and water bottles and other things that we can see and can make a conscious decision about (i.e. whether we buy or accept them in the first place and then how we reuse or dispose of them).
We at least know that if we do the ‘wrong’ thing, our discarded plastic items are likely to end up being preserved in a massive midden (landfill) for future generations to deal with or will eventually find their way to huge sinks (oceans and lakes) where they break down over tens and hundreds (maybe thousands) of years into tiny pieces that then wash up on beaches all around the world, including the otherwise pristine shores of Lord Howe Island. Or that are swallowed by turtles and fish and then eaten by birds (e.g. albatross in this post) and other species up the food chain…
Do yourself a favour and watch this fabulous David Attenborough-style mockumentary about a plastic bag’s journey through its twilight years.*
However, the plastics debate reaches an altogether different level when you learn that there are also plastics that we can’t see and that we do not even know that we are using – let alone inadvertently releasing into the unsuspecting and vulnerable environment.
These insidious ‘microbeads’ are apparently quite common in facial cleansers, body scrubs and other cosmetics, as well as soaps, sunscreens, and even toothpaste. Such products are designed to go down the drain and are small enough to easily pass through filters in wastewater treatment plants and into waterways where they are consumed by plankton, shellfish and other marine life at the bottom of the food chain.
Even though companies, such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and the Body Shop, have pledged to stop using microbeads in future – presumably this means that they are using them now. Does your cleanser feel lovely and silky smooth???
And it doesn’t stop there! Polyester, acrylic and other synthetic fabrics (including fleece garments made from recycled plastic bottles) shed ‘microplastics’ in the washing machine that end up in waterways (or your garden if you reuse your wash water).
What else don’t we know about the products we use?
Sources and more information about microplastics:
- ‘Don’t Lather, Don’t Rinse, Don’t Repeat‘ by Susan Freinkel (9 Sep 2013)
- ‘The Growing Problem of Microplastics‘ – YouTube video
- ‘Fleeced again: How microplastic causes macro problems for the ocean‘ by Clare Leschin-Hoar (7 Dec 2011)
Photo credit: Bicaz Lake, Romania © Bidouze Stéphane | Dreamstime.com