The predicament of microplastics

Microplastics recently have been commercially used in products, such as facial scrubs or toothpastes. However, many companies producing these products do not warn consumers of the potential danger. (NOAA/Creative Commons Flickr)

In the last decade you might have noticed these products appearing on the shelves of the personal care isles that claim to have some sort of new ‘micro scrubbing technology’ (or something along those lines) designed to attract the attention of the consumer. This new technology refers to the recent development and commercial use of mircoplastics or microbeads as they are some times called.

These microplastics can vary in individual size and concentration in a given hygiene product. They are typically found in products that are used for scrubbing, abrading, or removing an unwanted material from a surface of your body. Typical applications for these products often come in facial scrubs or cleansers, makeup removers, and toothpastes.

While often times the added performance value of these microplastics is visible and is reflected in the increase in sales of these products, many of the companies that produce and sell these products do not make the consumer aware of the potential damage and harm of these new products. These little particles are still plastic and will never biodegrade within natural environments.

There is not much long-term research done on these products as they have only been available for a short amount of time but, already we are able to see scientific evidence as to why these products can cause harm. These plastics are made primarily of polyethylene, the worlds most common plastic that is primarily used for packaging. While forms of this plastic are terminally recyclable, when in the form of the microbead or microplastic, it cannot be collected from our waterways to be reprocessed. The world produces around 80 million tons (that’s 160 BILLION pounds) in a single year.

Microplastics have ultimately shown to be able to enter our waterways and end up in the environment, which affects our food production systems. By using these products we are bioaccumulating plastics in the ecosystems and organisms that live in them which ultimately can damage humans when we consume plants and animals affected by these products. Some water processing plants have struggled in the removal of these plastics from water for human consumption and use.

The most present and visible threat is to marine life. These plastics are found in the gills and stomachs of sea life, disrupting many other natural processes as well. The bright colors that attract human attention in a supermarket have an adverse effect on fish. They mistake these particles in the ocean for food and can be poisoned or killed via consumption.

Personally, I am guilty of purchasing these products in the past. For example, when I ran out of toothpaste a while back, I needed to take some from my roommate. It so happens that he has Crest’s micro scrubbing technology toothpaste. Nothing sounds plastic or harmful about that so I gave it a shot and noticed after a single brush, my teeth were significantly cleaner, so I continued to buy the product for some time after that until this issue was brought to my attention.

Given the current political climate in the United States, it is more important now more than ever to vote with your wallets to decide the future markets. If you wish to avoid purchasing these products you can go to http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/ brought to you by an organization dedicated to stopping these damaging products. The site has a directory of products that contain micro or nano plastics. They also have a smart phone app that lets you scan your products in the store before you buy them to avoid a regretful decision.


The most sustainable option is to make your own hygiene products, that way you know and understand 100 percent of the ingredients that are being put on or into your body plus the added benefit of customization, less waste from containers, and cheaper cost. Alternatively, look for vendors of natural hygiene products at your local famers markets and other similar public events.


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.