Microbeads. (Not bees, beads.) There's too many of them and they're a problem. You might think that about bees too, but we're talking about beads.
A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology estimates 808 trillion plastic microbeads go down the drain of U.S. households daily. Those beads go on to settle in waste treatment plants, with about 8 trillion released into waterways like lakes and oceans each day. That in turn puts wildlife at risk, as animals that ingest the beads can grow sick or die.
These microbeads are a part of many personal hygiene and cleaning products, under the theory that if you bombard something with small plastic balls, it will get cleaner. Whether or not that's a sound theory, it doesn't seem worth the environmental damage cited by the study.
Microbeads aren't a new problem, as activists have been raising concerns about their effect on the ecosystem for years. Bans have been passed, promises have been made, yet the beads—trillions of them!— remain.
The study points out that many of the microbead bans and pledges have left open loopholes for beads considered to be "biodegradable." This includes beads that only degrade slightly over the course of a year, and then stick around for much longer than that.
Better bans, both from states and the plastics industry would help, but it would also help if you would just stop buying products containing microbeads. They may make your scalp a little cleaner, but that cleanliness could be coming at the expense of the environment.
Patrick Hogan is a reporter for Fusion based out of New York. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.