Tiny Plastic Beads are Clogging the Great Lakes

It looks like our face wash is loading the Great Lakes with tiny plastic pellets.

A recent study of three of the five Great Lakes – Huron, Superior, and Erie, to be exact – show that micro plastic is abundant. And when I say micro, I mean micro. These little balls of plastic measure less than a millimeter across. That means that they are too small to be caught by water treatment plants, so WHOOSH! They flow right on through.

These micro plastics didn’t come out of nowhere. They come from the abrasives uses in body scrubs. Because, as mentioned before, the beads are to small for water treatment plants, when you wash them down the sink, there is basically nothing standing in their way. According to Scientific American, this can cause an issue for lake wildlife:

The biggest worry: fish such as yellow perch or turtles and seagulls think of them as dinner. If fish or birds eat the inert beads, the material can deprive them of nutrients from real food or get lodged in their stomachs or intestines, blocking digestive systems.

That’s not great.

There is a wide variety of concentrations in the three Great Lakes that were studied, but the highest concentration is found in Lake Erie. Researchers will study the two remaining lakes this summer.

The researchers aren’t just concerned because they love nature. What happens at the bottom and middle of the food chain could have an effect on us. The beads are composed of a variety of types of plastics, and not all of them are completely safe. But one of the researchers pointed out that we just don’t know yet how the wildlife are responding to the plastics and whether any problems that are found will travel up the food chain.

We don’t know what’s going on yet with the fish or the organisms eating the plastic with these pollutants in the Great Lakes,” [Lorena] Rios says. “I plan to study whether the endocrine system of the fish is damaged and whether the problem stops there or moves up the food chain in harmful amounts all the way to humans.”

In a follow-up study, researchers plan to study the effect of sunlight on the pollutants. As the sun breaks down the plastics, scientists can get a better idea of where the plastic is coming from.

“You can almost never identify what product or where the source of micro plastics is out to sea,” explains Marcus Eriksen, executive director of the 5 Gyres Institute. “But in the Great Lakes we can.” Because the lakes are a smaller, confined geographic area, he explains, it’s easier to determine more accurate waste characterization from samples or identify possible sources of polluted effluent than in the vast, open oceans.

Even though the pollutants can stay in the environment for 50 years, it looks like we’re on our way to heading the problem off at the source: your face wash. The Body Shop and L’Oreal have discontinued using plastic micro beads in their facial and body cleansers, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will stop using the micro beads in all of its products, and Unilever will stop using them by 2015.



Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

jan macek
jan macek5 years ago

Everything we do has consequences :( especially for wildlife!

Manuela C.
Manuela C5 years ago


Ryan Yehling
Ryan Yehling5 years ago

Thanks for sharing!

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga5 years ago


Ernie Miller
william Miller5 years ago

Wow I had no idea but dont use stuff like that any way.

sharyn w.
sharyn w5 years ago

Glad to hear this issue is being bought to more people. Hopefully people will start to pay more attention to exactly what's in the products they use and what damage it might have to the wildlife and environment.. I'm a firm believer that if all of us do our part and that includes informing others, business, corporations and all levels of this Goverment we still have a chance for saving this planet for future generations of all forms of life not just human beings. You can start with personal hygienic/grooming products, household cleaning products, recycle, watch what you dispose of and where and how you dispose of it.(used motor oil, unused paint, electronic devices, unused medications(over the counter & Rx),old tires, etc. Just start where YOU can. Don't forget to encourage others especially if you have youngsters around and senior citizens(who might not be informed).

Sandi C.
Sandi C5 years ago


Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Val M.
Val M5 years ago