Plastic Soup

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Plastic Soup

Bridget Higgins, Technology Page Editor

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Many people start off their day with a simple routine such as, washing their face and brushing their teeth, but have you have questioned what’s really in the products you use? If you look at the ingredients there is probably a list of big words that most do not understand now and probably never will. It turns out that in certain cosmetics products such as face wash, exfoliates, and even toothpaste there are tiny plastic microbeads. There are thousands of these products on the market. These microbeads are finding there way into major waterways in our world and doing much more damage then you may realize.
Plastic microbeads are most commonly made up of polyethylene, which is a synthetic plastic commonly referred to as PEGs. They can also be made up of the other petrochemical substances such as, polypropylene and polystyrene. Petrochemical means that it is a chemical obtained by combining natural gas and petroleum. They range in size but, are usually about two millimeters. Many companies use these in their cosmetic products because they are very cheap. Throughout the ages these plastic beads have taken the place of natural exfoliants such as, salt crystals and ground nut shells.
There are many well known brands and hundreds of products on the market that incorporate plastic microbeads into their merchandise such as, Neutrogena. When Dane Sorensen a tenth grader at WVHS was informed of the fact that Neutrogena used these plastic microbeads in many of their products he responded, “ My sister uses Neutrogena and she’ll be super upset when she finds out about this. Those little beads are killing the fish. I’m pro salmon”. He also thought it would be a great idea to start a twitter trend to spread more awareness #savethesalmon. Many plastic microbeads are found in cosmetic products such as, exfoliators and makeup. When these plastic beads are washed down the drain they do not get filtered out. They are so tiny that they end up going through all of these water treatment plants, sewage plants and most end up not being filtered out. They eventually find their way into many waterways such as, streams, rivers and eventually oceans. They have even been found in large numbers in the Great Lakes in fact, in Lake Michigan there is to be an estimated 17,000 miniscule plastic items per square kilometer . These little beads are just one of the many plastic materials gathering in our waterways.
When the plastic beads and other plastic materials go into the marine environment they may be consumed by some species that humans use as a food source such as fish. Most marine organisms like fish who are unable to tell the difference between the beads and their food source end up consuming them. The animals that consume them range in size from tiny creatures to larger animals such as birds and turtles. Since, most of these microbeads are non biodegradable plastic this means that they are unable to break down for many hundreds of years. Therefore, they can weave themselves into the body tissue of organisms and stay there for a long period of time. Because of this, the marine wildlife consuming these microbeads may just end up on your plate. Maryanne Haynes, a sophomore at Warwick Valley High School was very shocked to learn the extent of this huge disaster. “ I think it’s really alarming to think what else could be in your food without you knowing. It makes you think twice about what you’re really eating” said Maryanne.
Recently President Obama signed into law the Microbead- free Water act that will now put in progress a ban on plastic microbeads used in the U.S starting July of 2017. Many states, like California have already took action on getting rid of these. People in the state of California went through years of great difficulty to finally get the law that prohibits the use of all plastic microbeads passed in the fall of 2015. A non profit organization called the Story of Stuff Project had been working on getting the state of California to pass a law that states the strict ban of all plastic microbeads for around three years that also included prohibition of biodegradable microbeads. They wanted the law to be true to itself and not just a facade. Big name corporations such as, Johnson & Johnson and Procter and Gamble did not want the plastic microbeads to be completely phased out. They were trying to create loopholes by saying that they would use other biodegradable products that would degrade quickly before they entered the environment. However, when asked for clarity formation regarding what new materials/ ingredients they would be using they refused to comply. That’s because what they wanted to do was basically use another plastic. Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns of the Story of Stuff described what happened on the organization’s website, “We were fighting with industry lobbyists in the California legislature over our proposed bill, it became clear that personal care products companies—in particular big hitters Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble—wouldn’t accept a bill without a loophole for alternatives, despite public pledges to phase out plastic microbeads. Then it dawned on me—the reason they were fighting so hard was they wanted to use another type of plastic. Indeed, during the meeting in which I realized this and called them on it, the whole room went quiet” . California is not the only state that had taken action before the nation wide law was passed. Colorado, New Jersey, Indiana, Maine, Maryland and Illinois had all taken action on banning or restricting plastic microbeads. Ruby Pape, a freshman at Warwick Valley High School, was ecstatic when informed of the ban. “ I’m glad they banned the plastic microbeads and are making an effort. I’m really happy that there is more and more thought going into how to help the environment.” However. no matter how much we try no action can reverse the many years that these beads have wreaked havoc on our environment. The marine life is still suffering and will continue to suffer. This breakthrough is just one step of many that the world needs to take in order to save our crumbling environment.

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Plastic Soup