Microbeads Entering Our Water Daily Could Cover 300 Tennis Courts

Scientists are calling for a total ban on microbeads — the tiny plastic pieces used in soap, toothpaste and face wash for exfoliation — after an analysis estimated that 8 trillion of the beads wind up in aquatic habitats every day in the U.S. alone.

That’s enough to cover more than 300 tennis courts every day, according to a paper published this month in Environmental Science & Technology, a scientific opinion journal.

“We’re facing a plastic crisis and don’t even know it,” co-author Stephanie Green, a conservation research fellow at the College of Science at Oregon State University, said in a statement. Wastewater treatment plants, she said, simply weren’t designed to handle microbeads, which she describes as “very durable.”

Why are these beads such a big deal? It takes so long for plastic to break down that they stick around “virtually forever,” according to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s John F. Calvelli. The beads look like tasty snacks to fish, amphibians and other aquatic life, but the chemicals used to make them are actually highly toxic.

When the smaller creatures that eat the beads get eaten by larger animals, the particles make their way up through the food chain, eventually making their way to humans, Calvelli wrote.

Microbeads could also be causing coral to starve to death, a March study found. When coral polyps confuse the beads with real food, the plastic can clog up their digestive systems and hinder their ability to digest the nutrients they need.

The authors got the 8 trillion number by using figures from previous studies to determine the average amounts of microbeads in a liter of liquid waste discharged from a treatment plant. They then multiplied that number by the amount of wastewater leaving U.S. treatment plants each day, assuming all —> Read More