Microbeads, Glitter, Oh My. It’s Time to Stop Profiting Off (Literal) Garbage

Recent studies confirming that plastic has penetrated deepest recesses of oceanic life are certainly startling, but on deeper reflection, not that surprising. My first time swimming in the ocean was marred by the realization that tiny pieces of plastic were everywhere, creating a grey filminess in the water. Plastic was not used much before the mid-twentieth century, but for the last few decades we’ve started using it for everything.

Once plastic was this pervasive in consumer life, it was inevitable that it would become similarly pervasive in life, period. Lest we forget, we, too, are part of the food chain. Earlier this year the Guardian reported on a study that found seafood eaters ingest 11,000 pieces of plastic annually. As if mercury in fish weren’t bad enough. But while all plastic sources degrade into smaller and smaller pieces and can eventually enter into global food webs, it seems a number of companies have made it that much easier, by producing ready-made, near-microscopic plastic litter specifically designed to enter our oceans and waterways.

Microbeads

Cosmetic company CEOs were the first brilliant monsters to pioneer selling consumers garbage. Based, presumably, on the ancient practice of using sand to clean and abrade dead skin when washing at riverbanks, tiny pieces of plastic were obviously cheaper than sourcing an organic option. T

hough the U.S. congress forced this laundry list of cosmetic polluters to stop using plastic microbeads, similar decisions will have to happen in every major country that purchases these kinds of products before the flow of body wash plastic in everyone’s shared freshwater supply and oceans stops. And while it is hard to find a more egregious example than a plastic bottle filled with tiny shreds of plastic specifically designed to go down the drain within seconds of use, there are a number of other product types to worry about.

Body Glitter

Well, what did you think it was made of? CNN happens to have just reported on this, to which my response is, well, duh. It should be obvious that body glitter that will be washed off in the shower a few hours later has the same net effect as microbeads that go down the drain immediately. Glitter is becoming so pervasive that it is an automatic add-on for all kinds of traditional make-up as well.

Packing Peanuts

Wouldn’t it be great if these were actually peanuts? Organic, edible, affordable? Unfortunately these are made of polystyrene. Your local recyclers likely can’t do anything with them, and you can reuse them only to a limited extent, since they get ripped, crushed, and dirtied fairly quickly.

Plastic packaging is a real problem, but when you order something online and the already packaged product is further packaged in a box full of plastic, that makes it even worse. As more and more of us carry reusable bags, and more and more retailers and legislators work to get rid of disposable plastic bags forever (which is important, no doubt), plastic litter is staying one step ahead of us, in the growing world of online retail.

As we look behind at Cyber Monday and look ahead to the Christmas shopping season, consider whether your favorite online retailer uses recyclable and decomposable packing materials, like paper or straw. And speaking of the upcoming holidays, New Year’s Eve is a scant month away, so…

Party Confetti

Don’t. Just don’t. It’s still more tiny pieces of plastic. The world has enough tiny pieces of plastic.

Companies need to stop selling plastic garbage for profit, and we need to stop buying tiny pieces of plastic garbage as well as large chunks of plastic garbage. I realize this isn’t a change that is going to happen overnight, but that’s where we need to be moving to.

Plastic should be a rarely applied material whose use must be carefully justified. Not the go-to option for anything and everything. We may have to settle for banning plastic one use at a time for now, but we shouldn’t forget that the long term goal is to get away from large scale use of unsustainable material options.

Photo credit: Alex Flury

55 comments

Marie W
Marie W1 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Marigold A
Past Member 7 months ago

So much junk, and yet most people don't even notice much less think about the consequences.

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Anna R
Anna R7 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Cathy B
Cathy B7 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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Arlene C
Arlene C7 months ago

merci Joel

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Winn A
Winn A7 months ago

:-(

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Winn A
Winn A7 months ago

yuck

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Tara W
Tara W7 months ago

Amen. All four of these totally unnecessary pollutants should be banned.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie7 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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