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Q. There has been a lot of talk about the damage those tiny plastic beads in beauty products are doing to our waterways, especially the Great Lakes region. What sorts of alternatives are out there? I've heard of jojoba beans and nutshells being used, but are they really any better?
A. Dearest Danni,
You’ve certainly got your finger on the pulse of aquatic pollutant news. First, your letter – then, last week, Illinois became the first state to ban the sale of products containing those tiny plastic beads you speak of. More states may soon follow suit, making microbeads (as they’re officially called) the villain du jour of our waterways. High time, if you ask me.
For those not as up on soap trends as Danni, in recent years, cosmetics companies have flooded hundreds of products – primarily face scrubs, but also shampoo, toothpaste, lip gloss, and sunblock – with diminutive balls of plastic meant to exfoliate our skin. Manufacturers like 'em because they’re smooth and easy to produce, but that’s pretty much where the benefits end. Once they’ve done their thing on our faces, these microbeads go down the drain, through the filters at the treatment plant (they’re typically too small to be snared), and into our lakes, rivers, and oceans. There, they soak up environmental pollutants like DDT and flame retardants before unsuspecting fish gobble them up, and then other fish (or maybe even you and I) gobble them in turn.