Plastic bags & bottles – but what about the plastics we can’t see?

© Bidouze Stéphane | Dreamstime.comIt 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?

* Thanks to Sarah Bellums for drawing my attention to the mockumentary. Check out this news story about how she crochets plastic bags into eco-designer bikinis!

Sources and more information about microplastics:

Photo credit: Bicaz Lake, Romania © Bidouze Stéphane |

Categories: Waste

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. I have been known to fish plastic bottles out of my gym’s trash can. It drives me batty that people toss plastic bottles in the garbage when there is a recycling bin three steps away.

  2. I’d like to re-blog your post — would that be OK with you?

  3. Wonderful article! Thank you for sharing my site! 🙂 You would LOVE project 🙂

    love & light

  4. Well done Pip. The three Videos really showed the extent of the problem. It will take a lot of willpower and effort to change human beings sloppy, nonthinking, wastefullness. We have allready seen the disaster that overtook Easter Island over one hundred years ago and we still have not learnt. It will take strong leaders to show the way. I am afraid the lure of greed overshadows moral integrity. Maybe showing the 3 Videos to the UN with good Scientific presentation of future consequences for Earth may start a change of thinking. Cheers, John

    • Yep – agree that greed plays a central role in this but we all play a part. I hope we have learned from lessons like Easter Island but there are more recent examples that give room for doubt.

  5. Reblogged this on Hoarder Comes Clean and commented:
    I’m reblogging this thoughtful post from “PipMarks”. And yes, I’m still working on using less plastic. Now I see that success at using my own grocery and produce bags, plus limiting other purchases that come in plastic, is just the tip of the plastic iceberg. Please read this, and when you need to lighten up, do click on the “mockumentary”.

    OK, I’m off to read the labels on my facial cleansers —

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