From bathrooms to waterways, the voyage of microplastics continues

It is the weekend and relaxing is in order: home bathroom is the place; full self-pampering is the game.  

Armed with some fragrant shampoo, coarse body scrub, anti-stress body wash and facial exfoliating cream, the process begins. It might come as a surprise, but these products can contain a hidden ingredient harmful to the environment — microbeads. 

According to beatthemicrobead.org,  "Microbeads are a kind of microplastic with specific function for scrubbing or exfoliating. In cosmetics, microplastic refers to all types of tiny plastic particles (smaller than 5 mm) that are intentionally added to cosmetics and personal care products. They are often used as emulsifying agents or just as cheap fillers."

Microplastics can be identified by many different unpronounceable names. Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), Nylon (PA), Polyurethane, and Acrylates Copolymer are some of them according to beatthemicrobead.org guide-to-microplastics.  

Wash them off and there they go, down the drain mixed with the clean water that comes into the bathroom straight from our public water system, which in our area processes the distribution of an average 23 million gallons of water per day. 

To top it off, flower-scented body lotion and spring-scented antiperspirant deodorant, which will go down the drain in the next shower, and minty toothpaste – aahhh …. What a treat! 

Any residue of product on our skin and in our hair and basically anything that is washed down the drains or flushed will travel through the pipes of our sewer system to a wastewater treatment plant.  

Treatment plants are designed to treat organic materials, not hazardous chemicals or very tiny pieces of plastic — in other words, microplastics cannot be removed from the water through a common treatment process. 

Once the wastewater arrives at the treatment plant, the plant cleans the water using various techniques to remove and reduce pollutants. Microplastics travel from tank to tank through filters all the way through pipes and, with the treated water, they flow back to a local water body. 

Anything that the treatment plant cannot remove from the water through the cleaning process will remain in the water and that is the water released into local waterways to be used again for any number of purposes, such as supplying drinking water, irrigating crops and sustaining aquatic life, according to epa.gov/npdes/pubs/centralized_brochure.pdf

Materials that are small enough to go through undetected will circulate over and over again in our waters, accumulating in the water with other materials added in the next trip around. To protect the quality of our waters, it is important to stop the influx of those materials at the source. 

Microplastic-free water begins at the shop. When you select the products you purchase, check if they include microplastics as one of their ingredients by searching the product or brand at beatthemicrobead.org/product-lists. If they do, you can  break the cycle and shorten the microplastic voyage by leaving that product on the shelf and switching to one with zero plastic inside.