Going Green(er)


July 10, 2013 by drandmrso

 I strive to be friendly to the Earth in as many ways as I can. So when I read an article on Slate and a more recent one on CNN about the various and dramatic problems with microbeads in soaps, my stomach sank. Microbeads, as the articles explain, are tiny (less than 5 millimeters in length) pieces of polyethylene that work remarkably well as exfoliating agents. Sadly, they also work remarkably well as hosts for hydrophobic organic contaminants that will then get gobbled up by unsuspecting sea creatures. The microplastic is so small that it is easily ingested by sea critters big and small, and it may not be successfully extracted from waste water at treatment plants*. Long story short: polyethylene in many exfoliating products (think facial scrubs, body wash, etc.) is polluting the ocean and ending up in seafood. And polyethylene doesn’t degrade. Ever.

The good news? Unilever is discontinuing the use of microbeads in their products by 2015, and many organic/natural products on the market already offer plastic-free scrubbing (Burt’s Bees and J.R. Watkins Naturals products are two examples).

After reading a few articles on this subject I ventured into my own bathroom to examine my beauty products. Fortunately, the bar soap that I use contains ground peach pits rather than plastic. But I did discover that my facewash, from Aveeno, despite using the word “naturals” on the label, has microbeads listed clearly on the front (and polyethylene listed in the ingredients on the back):

So now I’m in a predicament. I have about 2/3 of the bottle left. Do I continue to use it, knowing the microbeads are likely being flushed into the ocean, or do I throw it away, so the plastic is stuck in a landfill?

This kind of “starting fresh” mentality with green products can be hazardous. It feels wasteful (both economically and environmentally) to throw away a perfectly useful product, albeit not a perfectly green one, simply to replace it with something greener. What I’ve done in the past, and what I think I’ll do here, is wait until it runs out and buy a better alternative next time. For example, as little as a few months ago I was a dyed-in-the-wool Dove deodorant and Crest toothpaste girl. After reading about the incredibly Earth-friendly company Tom’s of Maine, check out my drawer now:

photo (14)

Going green(er) doesn’t have to mean throwing away everything you currently have. It can mean making a mental note to buy a better option when you need it. That way, you don’t waste what you’ve got, but you’re sending a message as a consumer that you are looking for better alternatives for the planet. We can’t pick up a new Earth at the store next time, after all.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on going green(er). Are you making a conscious effort?

Note: nope, I’m not getting any compensation for the product recommendations above.

*I read quite a few articles to prep for this post. All of them suggest that sewage treatment plants can’t extract microplastic, but none of them cited a good source to prove it.

2 thoughts on “Going Green(er)

  1. Klara says:

    I try to be eco-friendly. I purchase for example vegetables, fruit and dairy products at a local farm – with the exception of bananas because they don’t grow here 😉

    I never considered my beauty products though, so thanks for pointing that out. Think I’ll just use the stuff I have lying around, but be more aware when purchasing new things!

  2. Dan says:

    I am 100% in agreement about not having microplastics in products for all the reasons you outline, but a few interesting things pop up with what you’ve said. Firstly, it’s ridiculous (but accurate) that “micro”plastics are anything under 5mm. That’s the size of a pencil eraser. OK, prefix rant over. Secondly, while polyethylene doesn’t naturally *BIO*degrade, it can photodegrade in the sun, which is what happens to most that is floating in the ocean (also a scary story in itself). Lastly, there is some cool new research about creating bacteria that will eat up all that delicious polyethylene, which could be deployed in landfills (see http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/how-long-does-it-take-for-plastics-to-biodegrade.htm). Finally, if we’re worried about the degradation of PET, I’d worry more about the bottle than its contents. Interesting article Annie!

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Dr. O is an otorhinolaryngology resident. Mrs. O was an English major and is easily grossed out by blood and guts. This is the blog where Mrs. O documents their adventures in (not bloody) detail. Enjoy!

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