Ask Umbra: What’s a girl to do with soap that’s full of plastic microbeads?
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Q. Shortly before the reports that described the effect of microbeads on our waterways came out, I was at Costco and bought several bottles of facial scrub on sale. I stopped using it, but still have 2 or 3 bottles here in the house. What’s the best way to dispose of it?
A. Dearest Dori,
What lamentable luck. Like anyone stuck with a pile of Brazil World Cup Champion T-shirts could tell you, sometimes it backfires to buy in bulk. You may have already purchased the plasticky potions, but I have good news: You can still keep their insidious microbeads out of our waterways.
But first, in case anyone here has missed the microbead brouhaha of late: Many personal-care products intended to exfoliate the skin, such as face scrubs and body washes, derive their abrasive powers from tiny bits of plastic (a bit nonsensical, really, but there you have it). But researchers have realized the tiny bits of plastic, a.k.a. microbeads, are showing up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans, where they’re attracting pollutants and getting eaten by fish and generally behaving badly. Turns out, water treatment plants can’t filter out these minuscule bits, so they go straight from our sinks and tubs to the sea. (Read more about the problem here.)
Knowing this, you’re right not to sigh and simply use up the rest of your supply, Dori. I’ve scrubbed up three better solutions for you.
1. Donate them to science
Dr. Sherri Mason, a professor of chemistry at SUNY-Fredonia, helped expose the microbead issue in the first place with her research in the Great Lakes. Now, she’s analyzing bead concentrations and characteristics in consumer products, and she’d be happy to accept your unwanted bottles and tubes. Just tape them shut and ship them off to:
Attn: Sherri Mason
280 Central Ave.
340 Sciences Complex
Fredonia, NY 14063
2. Donate them to art
The good folks at 5 Gyres, an environmental advocacy group, are continuing to spread the word about plastic pollution in the ocean through several microbead-based art projects. Artist Chris Jordan and the 5 Gyres director of research are both working on pieces designed to raise awareness, and they’d also welcome your castaways to filter for beads. Tape them shut and ship them off to:
The 5 Gyres Institute
3131 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
3. Filter them
If you’re short on postage, you can also strain the microbeads out of your remaining scrubs and toss them. “It’s not ideal, but better in the landfill than in the water supply,” says Mason. A coffee filter does the trick: Squeeze the product into a jar or similar container, top with a coffee filter, and strain. If the product is soupy already, such as a body wash or hand soap, you can now use the filtered version guilt-free. To filter something something pasty, like face scrub or toothpaste, you may need to add water, but you can safely pour the remainder down the drain.