Environmentalism

Don't Want No Scrubs: Environmentalists and State Regulators Agitate to Ban Plastic Microbeads

Several states side with environmentalists in banning a longtime ingredient in popular products.

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CrazySexyCool|||From Ushi212 and Wikimedia Foundation
From Ushi212 and Wikimedia Foundation

In 1999, TLC passionately remonstrated against scrubs—that is, men who would be "lookin' like trash," while the ladies of TLC and their acolytes were "lookin' like class." 

In that day, scrubs trying to up their game could take a trip to CVS and buy some affordable, exfoliating facial wash. Today, however, environmentalists and state regulators are working to proscribe the plastic microbeads that are a key ingredient in commercial skin cleaners.

According to environmentalists, plastic microbeads, which are confusingly also known as scrubs, pose an ecological hazard.

A recent report in Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T) received national attention by estimating that "8 trillion microbeads per day are emitted into aquatic habitats in the United States," enough to cover approximately 300 tennis courts. The report bears the caveat: "scientific opinion non-peer reviewed."

Environmentalists are concerned about the potential impact of this effluent on marine ecosystems, arguing that it's theoretically possible "microbeads can transfer contaminants to animals and cause toxic effects."

As of 2013, The New York Times reported that scientists were still trying to establish that plastic in marine habitats has an effect on wildlife and humans, which then was only partially understood: 

Scientists are still working through the links of the chain leading back to humans; about 65 million pounds of fish are caught in the Great Lakes each year. Worldwide, the beads have been found in some marine organisms and not in others, and the transfer of poisons from the beads into the bodies of the creatures that eat them is still being established.

It has been shown to happen in lugworms, which live in the North Atlantic, and Dr. Mason said, "If it happens in lugworms, there's a pretty good chance that it's happening in other species."

Lorena Rios Mendoza, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Superior,…has examined fish guts and found plastic fibers — possibly from the breakdown of synthetic fabrics through clothes washing — that are laden with the chemicals, and said she expected to find beads as well.

In February of this year, the Australian Government's Australian Research Council (ARC) reported, "Despite the proliferation of microplastics, their impact on marine ecosystems is poorly understood." They did find that "corals ate plastic at rates only slightly lower than their normal rate of feeding on marine plankton." According to the ARC, "the next step is to determine the impact plastic has on coral physiology and health, as well as its impact on other marine organisms."

The scientists who wrote the 8 trillion microbead ES&T report argue that although some say there isn't enough scientific evidence to warrant banning microbeads, and "though there are gaps in our understanding of the precise impact of microbeads on aquatic ecosystems, this should not delay action."

The title of that report is "Scientific Evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads."

Regulators across the U.S. seem to agree that the evidence supports a bead ban. Though the federal Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014 died in the 113th Congress, it was re-introduced in March 2015 and assigned to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A federal ban may not even be necessary, though, as six states (Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, Colorado, Indiana, and Maryland) have already issued their own. Furthermore, ES&T reports that Unilever, The Body Shop, IKEA, Target Corporation, L'Oreal, Colgate/Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson pledged to stop using microbeads in their "rinse-off personal care products."

Critics, including the ES&T authors, charge the bans and voluntary moratoria don't go far enough, as some of the language (like "rinse off" and "personal care") provides loopholes for products defined as having other applications. Furthermore, the ill-defined term "biodegradable" still permits plastic beads that degrade only slightly while still posing, in the critics' view, a potential hazard.

Fortunately, you can clean your face without dirtying your conscience. A vertitable trail mix of safe, organic material, "including rice, apricot seeds, walnut shells, powdered pecan shells, [and] bamboo," can be found in earthy commercial exfoliants, and they are said by some to work even better than plastic. On the other hand, the crunchy skincare alternatives do cost more, so a "broke-ass" scrub may still be out of luck.

NEXT: Pope Comes to Town, Selfies More Dangerous Than Sharks, 'Happy Birthday' Song in Public Domain: A.M. Links

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  1. Environmentalists are concerned about the potential impact of this effluent on marine ecosystems, arguing that it’s theoretically possible “microbeads can transfer contaminants to animals and cause toxic effects.”

    It is also theoretically possible for monkeys to fly out of my butt.

    1. And PETA will demand the rights to any selfies they take!

  2. Well, that song will be in my head all day. You’re a dick, Newguy. A DICK.

      1. Come on, it’s not funny anymore.

        1. I don’t even understand the reference.

    1. You’re stupid, Warty.

      RIP Left Eye.

      1. *Turns lights off in office, plays Red Light Special*

  3. A vertitable trail mix of safe, organic material, “including rice, apricot seeds, walnut shells, powdered pecan shells, [and] bamboo,” can be found in earthy commercial exfoliants,

    Or you can just stop pretending you possess the skin of a Chinese princess and use sandpaper.

    As of 2013, The New York Times reported that scientists were still trying to establish that plastic in marine habitats has an effect on wildlife and humans, which then was only partially understood

    Don’t fret. Once the confirmation bias kicks into high gear, then the effect will be perfectly understood, just like Climatey Changey is well-understood today.

    1. “though there are gaps in our understanding of the precise impact of microbeads on aquatic ecosystems, this should not delay action.””

      Maybe they have a consensus !

  4. These scientists are amateurs. You don’t get big grant money by saying your early tests have shown that there is some impact possibly on certain species, there is not enough evidence to advocate a ban at this point, and more study is needed to understand the full effects.

    You get big grant money by claiming an existential threat so great that the entire food chain is in grave danger. Oh, and claim that the beads plus CAGW of the oceans is decimating the fish population. Have to include CAGW if you want access to the big grant money.

    1. “You get big grant money by claiming an existential threat so great that the entire food chain is in grave danger. Oh, and claim that the beads plus CAGW of the oceans is decimating the fish population. Have to include CAGW if you want access to the big grant money.”

      And it had better be in the title and the abstract.
      You think the guys handing out the grants READ that boring crap?

  5. “Okay, think of what little patience I have as, oh, I don’t know, your virginity. You always thought it would be there, until that night Junior Year when you were feeling a little down about yourself and your pal Kevin, who just wanted to be friends, well, he dropped by and he brought a copy of About Last Night and a four-pack of Bartels & James and woo hoo hoo, it was gone forever – just like my patience is now.”

    – Dr. Cox

    1. I enjoyed that show as well, whatever its faults.

    2. Dear god was Scrubs fucking great. Fuck any of the Grey’s Anatomy BS, Scrubs is the closest thing to what it actually is like to practice medicine. And Dr. Cox? That man should be bronzed for wisdom like that.

  6. I don’t see this as a great loss.
    Those microbeads were always bullshit in the first place. Exfoliating, my ass.
    20 years ago there was a fad for exfoliating products. Mainly this involved scrubbing one’s face with some sort of sandy abrasive material. Then someone came up with the idea of embedding dirt into soap. Over time it evolved into these degenerate products in which a tiny beads are suspended some sort of colorful gel-like substance. At this point, it’s more about making the soap look cool than about actually exfoliating, and on top of that, I’m not even sure anyone thinks exfoliation is actually good for your skin anymore anyway. We’re back to moisturizing now.

    1. Well, I definitely still exfoliate, but I agree about the microbeads suspended in soap. That shit doesn’t do shit.

      1. So what do you use, the stuff with the sand in it?

        1. I usually just roll around in a pile of gravel.

          1. Gravel and busted up safety glass.

            1. I like to exfoliate AND exsanguinate at the same time. For efficiency.

              1. And if you don’t have time for that you can dry rinse with concrete dust for that rugged forty-going-on-sixty construction worker look.

        2. Usually stuff with salt, or sugar, or crushed beans or almonds.

          1. But the salt is GMO-free right?

            1. And the sugar is carbon-free.

            2. That just gave me brilliant money making idea for gifting stupid hipsters. “GMO free salt: contains only all natural Sodium and Nitrogen.” And I’ll only charge ~50% more than Morten’s salt. Also, GMO free water. I’m gonna be rich! Rich I tells ya! *dances like an old time miner*

              1. Grifting, not “gifting.” Sheesh.

              2. I will in turn make a fortune as hippy blogger listing the EVIL chlorine in your GMO free salt! Its win-win!!!

              3. contains only all natural Sodium and Nitrogen

                Not sure that would be the best plan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_nitride

                1. Clearly I need a refresher in basic HS chemistry. *hangs head in shame*

  7. OT: My health-insurance premium will shortly more than double, and the deductible will increase by 60%. Someone should pass a law making health care affordable.

    1. But you can keep it right?

    2. It’s just a minor sacrifice so people like me can now afford health insurance.

      Wait, I still can’t afford health insurance.

      And even if I could I’d be screwed if I ever had to use it.

    3. Just remember higher insurance premiums for one man is a tragedy, higher insurance premiums for millions is a presidential legacy.

    4. It is your duty to help pay my healthcare. We are all in it together. So, go make some more money, because Crusty has a sniffle.

      1. We don’t want to know about your sexual diseases.

  8. You know what else is theoretically possible?

    *Puffs out chest, whistles “Hail to the Chief”*

  9. Wash your face with Lava soap.

    1. I prefer orange Gojo, but to each his own…

  10. On the other hand, the crunchy skincare alternatives do cost more, so a “broke-ass” scrub may still be out of luck.

    So, basically, it’s another instance of environmentalism being about imposing upper-middle class tastes on the riff-raff.

  11. I remember researching the supposed gyre of plastic scrap that’s in the Pacific as part of writing a grant proposal. Depending on whose account you read, it was 10% the size of Texas, half the size of Texas, the size of Texas, and triple the size of Texas.

    It’s all bullshit, but highly useful for securing grants.

    1. The why the watermelons talk about it you’d swear there was a giant island of trash floating in the Pacific. Instead the alleged “garbage patch” is so microscopic and dispersed that you wouldn’t notice it even if you were sailing through it.

      People truly do not appreciate just how huge the Pacific Ocean is, or the Earth at large, for that matter.

      1. Instead the alleged “garbage patch” is so microscopic and dispersed that you wouldn’t notice it even if you were sailing through it.

        4 particles per cubic meter

    2. My guess is you could drive a ship from one side to the other, right through the center of it, and maybe see fewer than 5 bits of floating garbage during your journey.

  12. the supposed gyre of plastic scrap that’s in the Pacific

    Pix or GTFO.

  13. Derpy’s Army countdown: 8 weeks

    motivational thought: happiness is a belt-fed weapon
    motivational song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2G5rfPISIwo

    fun fact: Iron Maiden makes an ale called Trooper. It’s OK.
    http://www.beeradvocate.com/be…..394/96511/

    1. Are you working out to get ready, or are you vegging out so you can get the full experience that boot camp has to offer?

      1. I exercise a lot because I have to keep my weight down.

    2. so why the Army again? Their PXs suck and they have a lot of shitty locations for bases?

      1. Cause the Marines are crazy, the Air Force has been taken over by Christian Fundamentalists and a bureaucracy that makes the other services look like Somalia, and in the navy you have to go 6 months at a time without seeing women

        1. Concur with USMC & USAF. Navy does put women (although its not a good M:F ratio) on ships, even on some boomers! Plus there is a rumor that women show up when a Navy ship pulls into port. That’s odd.

  14. I thought the microbeads were just bad for plumbing and sewers.

    1. Not so much for the plumbing and sewers as it is for water treatment. Gravity filtration is an easy way to remove precipitates that would normally clog filters and gum up purification equipment. Microbeads are neutral density and resist gravity filtration.

      Everything else can handle them pretty reliably.

      1. That makes sense.

      2. Look, just sign off where it says “market failure” so we can start fining people.

  15. But ass bead pulls are still OK, right?

    asking…for a friend

    1. As long as you don’t feed ’em to corals.

    2. Just don’t pull them like you’re starting a lawnmower again.

      1. +1 audible POP

    3. DELANEY: Single’s resort.
      Phuket, Thailand.
      Whole place ran on beads.
      But lemme tell ya boyo, that muther o’ yers found a whole new way to use ’em!

      ARCHER: To use the beads?

      DELANEY: Oh yeah.
      Boop! And then zzzzzziiiinnnng! Like an SSP racer.
      Good times.

  16. “ES&T reports that Unilever, The Body Shop, IKEA, Target Corporation, L’Oreal, Colgate/Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson pledged to stop using microbeads in their “rinse-off personal care products.”

    A vertitable trail mix of safe, organic material, “including rice, apricot seeds, walnut shells, powdered pecan shells, [and] bamboo,” can be found in earthy commercial exfoliants, and they are said by some to work even better than plastic.”

    The most important take from this is that the private sector is much more responsive to the concerns of their customers than government legislators and regulators are to voters.

    If and when microbeads are shown to be harmful and the federal government bans them, rest assured that the regulations will eventually feature carveouts for favored interests–that couldn’t get away with such pollution otherwise.

    1. And if research is inconclusive or even negative for harmful effects, rest assured that regulations will still go into effect because sensible precaution.

      1. There are things to be concerned about, too, that don’t seem to get any press. One of the things I think about, and I’ve heard environmental engineers talk about…

        Pharmaceutical use was once pretty rare. Nowadays, a third of the population may be on some prescription medication at any given time. To make a long story short, after it goes through your body, all that medication goes down the sewer system. When that wastewater is processed, there’s no way to test for the concentrations of all those pharmaceuticals much less filter them out, and the effluent typically goes back into whatever river it was taken from–to be taken in by another municipal water system downstream.

        There’s no call for doing anything about that because short of banning pharmaceuticals, there isn’t anything that can be done about it–there is no way to remove it from the water. I don’t know that stuff is hurting me, but I know I’d rather not drink it.

        1. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the precautionary principle isn’t a terrible thing by itself–certainly not if used by individuals to asses their own risks.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Precautionary_principle

          When I’m out backpacking, I use iodine tablets and boil my water–even if I don’t know whether there’s anything that might hurt me in that spring. I certainly don’t need a scientific consensus on the threat level in that spring before I do what’s necessary to avoid drinking bad water. When I don’t know, I assume the worst, treat it with iodine, and boil it like it’s bad water–and that’s perfectly rational. Assuming it’s okay because I don’t have any evidence to the contrary is irrational.

          1. Why, it’s almost as though you’re advocating for a reasoned scientific study, divorced from hysteria and preconceived conclusions!

            Heresy, say I.

            1. I’m also suggesting that assuming that there might be a problem before we get the results of that study isn’t necessarily wrong.

              In fact, I suspect one of the reasons those companies started willingly not using those beads anymore was becasue their legal departments were using the precautionary principle quite rationally, too.

              I bet they did a risk assessment of what it might cost them in court if it turns out those beads are hurting people or their property, figured out how much it would cost to use something else, based on the risk profile, saw it was cheaper to switch, and switched to an alternative–just in case.

  17. It is almost a proven fact that urine is the best substance to use for face washing.

    1. Your huge collection of bukkake videos claim otherwise, Crusty ….

      1. Do not mock urine therapy, sir.

    2. MANDATE

    3. I thought semen was good for a girl’s skin and hair /old National Lampoon

  18. “though there are gaps in our understanding of the precise impact of microbeads on aquatic ecosystems, this should not delay action.”
    The title of that report is “Scientific Evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads.”

    THAT’s funny!

  19. Congress isn’t actually going to outlaw tiny plastic spheres, are they? If not, couldn’t we just buy them separately and mix them with a cleanser?

  20. Exfoliate all you want, you’re still ugly underneath.

  21. I’m not 100% down with the whole open-ended experiment of “what will happen if we introduce umpteen m/b/trillion microbeads into our food chain?”

    Not saying that this is an opportunity for regulation that we need to jump on toot sweet, mind.

    But I’m not a huge fan of open-ended food chain experiments.

    1. “But I’m not a huge fan of open-ended food chain experiments.”

      Well, you know, water has never been proven to be safe.

  22. “though there are gaps in our understanding of the precise impact of microbeads on aquatic ecosystems, this should not delay action.”

    Of course not. Why wait until we know for sure that they’re a problem when we can just drop the ban hammer now. Some nanny statist shitstain somewhere might lose their wood if they don’t get to ban something soon.

    1. Do the words “gray goo” mean nothing to you?!!

  23. IKEA sells face wash?

  24. I love the vernacular:
    “the transfer of poisons from the beads into the bodies of the creatures that eat them is still being established”

    Not:
    “the potential transfer of poisons from the beads into the bodies of the creatures that eat them is still being investigated”

    Much like the title the conclusions have already been made. Science at it’s best.

  25. A vertitable trail mix of safe, organic material, “including rice […],” can be found in earthy commercial exfoliants

    Wait — wasn’t rice supposed to turn birds into flocks of flying hand grenades?

  26. Cut to 20 years from now with dire predictions about the ‘seed and shell waste’ polluting our streams and oceans and the calls to being suing companies that manufactured exfoliating products that used said shells.

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