Friday, December 11, 2015

Tiny Plastic Problems: An Introduction

Tiny Plastic Problems: An Introduction

There is a threat right now floating in our oceans, flowing in our rivers and circling your shower drain. Synthetic polymers are ending up in cosmetic products lips stick, beauty cream and body soap are littered with Micro-beads. These beads are made up of polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyporoylene (PP), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon. Once these little beads go down the drain the end up in the sewer. From there, just like all the other unmentionable horrors we flush each day, they  get filtered out right?


Researchers Fendall and Sewel (2009) found that consumer cosmetic Micro-beads are usually found to be less than 250 micrometers. The average waste screening is broken into two steps, a coarse screening that captures particles greater than 4 millimeters and a fine screening process that catches particles from 1.5-6 millimeters. A micrometer is a one-one thousandth of a millimeter. Not only can Micro-beads pass these filters, they can do it four beads wide.
Micro-plastics CC licensed by
So where do these beads end up? 

As a Portland area resident these beads end up flushed out into our waterways. Portland Environmental Services' website says that every minute fifty thousand gallons of treated waste water are dumped right into the Columbia River, then into the ocean.

I’ll be taking a deeper look into the nastier side of Portland's waste management as we dig deep for these plastic pearls. For now do what you can by going to “Beat the Beads”. Where you can get an applet that gives you scanner on your phone that can detect micro-beads in cosmetics. It's not a science fiction device, it just scans product codes using your camera.

Thanks for reading Planeteers, the power is yours.


  • Fendall, L. S., & Sewell, M. A. (2009). Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: Microplastics in facial cleansers. Marine Pollution Bulletin58(8), 1225-1228. 


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