Concerned about microplastics in Michigan waterways? Do your part – with a little elbow grease

Microplastics are emerging as a water quality concern. A simple, no-cost way to reduce the amount of microplastics entering the environment is staring us in the face.

The old fashioned wash cloth – an alternative to microbead facial scrubs. Photo credit: Jane Herbert
The old fashioned wash cloth – an alternative to microbead facial scrubs. Photo credit: Jane Herbert

Popular facial and bath cleansers that claim to exfoliate may contain tiny plastic microbeads to provide that slightly gritty feeling. Rinsing sends these microplatics down the drain and to the municipal waste water treatment plant. These treatment systems are not equipped to filter out, or degrade, these microplastics. And because they’re so buoyant, they can float on through to receiving waterways.

Marine debris has gotten attention around the world through images of animals entangled in trash. But the not-so-visible microplastics problem is gaining attention and has surfaced in the Great Lakes.

There are many sources of microplastics in the Great Lakes, including the breakdown of plastic beverage bottles that make their way into lakes and rivers. Making sure all plastic containers are recycled and not left on the beach, or allowed to fall out of the boat, is an easy and obvious solution.

Michigan State University Extension recommends an easy alternative to microbead facial scrubs is staring us right in the face! It’s the old-fashioned wash cloth – combined with a non-microbead cleansing product and a little elbow grease. This combination can achieve exfoliation of dead skin particles without sending plastic microbeads down the drain. If you’re looking to do even more for the planet, allow your wash cloths to air dry instead of drying them in the clothes dryer. You’ll save energy, money and ensure that slightly gritty effect!

Increasingly there are facial cleansers on the market that use natural alternatives to the plastic microbeads (for example, ground shell hulls). Unfortunately, shoppers may not find plastic microbeads on product ingredients lists. They’re more likely to see polypropylene or polyethylene – plastics used in manufacturing microbeads. To assist shoppers in choosing microbead-free products, one international organization has created a smartphone app that provides detailed information on product ingredients. 

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