Try to imagine what ocean pollution looks like. What is the first image that comes to mind? Oil, plastic water bottles, maybe fishing nets? We often conjure up images of tangible objects, such as things we have seen bobbing along in the water or washed up on the beach, but there is an even larger culprit that is actually quite small.

Microbeads or sometimes referred to as nurdles, are tiny bits of plastic smaller than 5mm long. Microbeads were initially designed to be used in biomedical research but have recently been utilized in personal hygiene products as a skin exfoliates. These tiny particles are often found in face wash, hand soaps, and even toothpaste. This concept was seemingly a convenient idea – having a built in scrubber for a squeaky-clean feel. However, after these particles disappear down the drain, they are unable to be filtered out by sewer treatment plants – ultimately ending up in our oceans, rivers, and The Great Lakes.

Here’s the problem: microbeads are composed of polyethylene, a plastic that is not biodegradable. Once they enter the ocean they are consumed by plankton and then passed through the food chain to larger fish or mistaken as fish eggs by other sea creatures. We’re unsure how exactly these particles are affecting the digestive system of these the animals, but we do know that they are increasingly accumulating in our waters.

Luckily, this global issue is already being addressed by states in the US pushing to ban the sale of these products; even large companies like Unilever, are now committed to phasing-out all microbeads from their products by 2015. You can make a difference too by following these 3 simple steps:

1.     Discontinue the use of personal products that contain polyethylene beads.

2.      Download this app to determine if your personal products contain microbeads.

3.      Look for products that contain natural exfoliates as an alternative, such as crushed apricot shells and walnuts. We recommend Burt’s Bees or St. Ives, both use 100% natural exfoliates. 

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