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Microbeads, a small thing that can lead to a big problem

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Microbeads, a small thing that can lead to a big problem

How can something less than five millimeters in size (about the size of a sesame seed) potentially create problems?

Enter microbeads.

What are microbeads?
Microplastics-as their name suggests-are tiny particles, usually made of polyethylene (a commonly used plastic) or other plastics. They range in size from one micrometer to one millimeter in size. They're typically found in bathroom or personal care products such as hand wash, exfoliating scrubs, and toothpaste. Microbeads are a type of microplastic that is particularly small.

How common are microbeads?
Microbeads, which are a type of microplastic, were first used in personal care products about 50 years ago.

A single shower can result in more than 100,000 microbeads going down the drain as the result of personal care products, into the wastewater system, and eventually the oceans.

What problems do microbeads create?
We're still learning about the impacts of microbeads. Since they are so small, they can pass through filters during the treatment process and end up in the oceans, where aquatic life or marine birds could eat them and introduce them into the food chain.

The Australian government reports that microbeads can absorb and transfer toxins up the food chain.

What is being done about microbeads?
The Microbead-Free Waters Act, which was signed in 2015, will begin phasing out microbead production beginning in July, which will help reduce the number of microbeads being introduced into the waterways.

To be sure though, the act does not eliminate the creation of microplastics. Microplastics and small pieces of plastic, which can result from the erosion of larger pieces of plastic contaminate our water. Microplastics have been found as a contaminant in bottled water.

What can you do?
If you'd like to determine which products contain microbeads, please check here.

Photo courtesy: KYTan/Shutterstock.com

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