In a rare display of cooperation among environmentalists, industry and government, all 3 are pooling their resources to combat microplastics pollution in the Great Lakes, rivers and oceans.
Microplastics pollution, for the layperson such as Yours Truly, consists of microfibers and microbeads. “Microfibers” are ultrafine filaments composed of petroleum-based materials like nylon and polyester, which are woven into many fabrics. Something as ordinary as laundry can release thousands of microfibers from a single garment. “Microbeads” are abrasive beads used in personal care products such as facial and body washes and toothpastes. Thousands of microbeads can be flushed into the water system by a single person’s use of facial washes, body washes and toothpaste in a single day. Both microfibers and microbeads can be so miniscule as to be microscopic, untrapped by the filtering systems of local waste water treatment plants. Furthermore, microplastics can contain toxic chemicals and/or absorb pollution from their surroundings. Finally, microplastics are extremely difficult to remove from whatever system they pollute.
Environmentalists have long suspected that microfibers and microbeads are polluting America’s water. Then in 2012 and 2013, scientists dragged the surfaces of all our Great Lakes with specially designed nets to analyze the extent of the microbead pollution and scientists tested waterbeds, fish and consumable liquids to analyze the extent of the microfiber pollution. Among their discoveries are: at least some of the Great Lakes have tens of thousands of microplastic particles per square mile; the pollution has spread to other bodies of water, such as the St. Lawrence River; since a great deal of drinking water comes from these bodies of water and waste water treatment plants cannot catch these materials, they are probably in our drinking water; some Great Lakes fish have thousands of ultrafine plastic fibers enmeshed within their bodies; 24 varieties of German beer contain microplastics; and some fish-eating birds such as the cormorant also contain enmeshed microplastic fibers.
In response to widespread microplastics pollution, Illinois environmentalists began pushing for State legislation to limit microplastics use. Though they expected stiff opposition, these environmentalists were pleasantly surprised by the willingness of business and legislatures to cooperate. Major companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Colgate and L’Oreal have announced their plans to replace microbeads with natural materials such as oatmeal, sea salt and ground-up fruit pits. In addition, Illinois imposed a statewide ban on microbeads last year. Lawmakers in California, New York, Ohio and New Jersey have introduced similar bills that are in various legislative stages and a nationwide ban on the use of microplastics is anticipated by 2018.
Due to these rare instances of environmentalist-manufacturing-legislative cooperation, microplastics are expected to vanish from U. S. products, with manufacturers absorbing the costs of switching to natural substances.
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