Polyethylene and acrylates copolymer are currently being investigated as microplastics, which are materials that have recently become a hot topic in environmental research. A microplastic is any piece of plastic <5mm in diameter and is virtually incapable of breaking down completely. Fish and seabirds may mistake microplastics for food. If ingested, its resistance to decomposition convinces the animal that they are full, even though they’re really just full of plastic. They eventually starve to death, which not only has implications for hastening species decline, but it also has the capacity to affect the fishing industry.
Furthermore, microplastics have the affinity to absorb toxic pollutants, like PCBs and DDT. PCB stands for polychlorinated biphenyls and they are used as coolant fluids in electric motors. DDT stands for dichloro - diphenyl - trichloroethane, and was used as an insecticide since the 1940’s, but was banned in the ‘70s for its debilitating effects on bird species and their offspring. It is extremely persistent, which means that it takes a very long time to break down. Although they’re banned, they are still present in nature and have been for over 30 years. These pollutants are known to accumulate in fatty tissues, and can actually bioaccumulate (increase in concentration within the body) up trophic levels (food chains). That means (if you like fish or duck for food) you might have actually ingested microplastics at one point or another. Our tap water is not currently being treated for microplastics at water treatment plants, which means tiny pieces of plastic are being directly deposited into water bodies every day.
However, it is not fully understood how this ingredient directly affects marine ecosystems. While the above photo is proof enough for me to regulate the use of microplastics, there is not enough research done on every aspect of marine environments, such as sediments, organisms that eat the sediments, fish that eat these organisms, and birds that eat these fish. More research is required in order to change current policies on water quality.
This ingredient is generally used as an exfoliant in personal care products such as facial scrubs and body wash. Here are some examples of products that contain microplastics:
- Olay Pore Minimizing Cleanser + Scrub
- Clean and Clear Morning Burst Detoxifying Facial Scrub
- Aveeno Skin Brightening Scrub
- Neutrogena Body Clear Body Scrub
- Burt’s Bees Peach and Willowbark Deep Pore Scrub
- Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Pore Scrub
- Alba AcneDote Face and Body Scrub
- Hugo Naturals Dead Sea Salt Scrub
While I don't use a ton of body or face scrubs, I personally like Burt's Bees Peach and Willowbark Scrub and Acne Solutions Scrub. St. Ives scrubs are also generally natural, but be warned: some of their facial cleansers contain microplastics, so read labels carefully! Ingredients like walnut shells, crushed peach pits, sugar, and salt are biodegradable and won't persist in the environment for prolonged periods of time, so opt for a body or face scrub with these ingredients over microplastics.
Please read labels before purchasing, and don't assume something is free of microplastics because it contains 'natural' ingredients. For more information, please visit http://www.tacoma.uw.edu/features/research/microplastic-macroproblem.
Until the next post,