Tiny plastics pose big threat to Great Lakes

Even at microscopic levels, plastics polluting our Great Lakes can be a very severe threat.

Microbeads, or microplastics, are tiny plastic particles measuring less than 5 millimeters in size. They’re typically found in popular skin care products and toothpaste, and can also be the leftover pieces you’d find after larger products, such as plastic bags or synthetic clothing, are broken down.

The little bits of material were a widely discussed topic of concern a few years back, with some calling on lawmakers to ban the microbeads as a step toward ensuring our waterways weren’t contaminated further.

Then, the U.S. Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which forced companies to stop manufacturing “rinse-off” cosmetics products with beads by July 2017 and the sale of those products by July 2018. For rinse-off cosmetics that are also non-prescription drugs, the deadline to stop manufacturing was July 2018, with a sales deadline of July 2019.

While supporters cheered adoption of that act as a major milestone for wise environmental stewardship, critics pointed to other products that contain microbeads and the millions of tons of other plastics that somehow find a path to the world’s waterways.

Beyond just the pollution, there’s a health concern facet to consider. On their travels to our waterways, microbeads can pick up harmful bacteria. Then they can be consumed by aquatic animals, and later possibly humans. So, a group of Northern Michigan University students are working to stop that by turning those tiny pollutants into a piece of art.

They want to create the eco-art exhibit to raise awareness of microbeads and give people a place to dispose of the harmful products.

There are likely still products containing microplastics in some of our bathroom vanities. For more information on the tiny particles and a list of products, visit www.beatthemicrobead.org.

We look forward to seeing the art project come to fruition, and applaud these students for looking at the whole picture of microplastics pollution, from the tiniest particle to the wide open waters of our world.

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