I’m not really sure why microbeads exist, but facewash ads tell us they’re good at exfoliating. In my experience, those beads have been about as effective at scrubbing away dead skin as dipping my face into a bowl of Cool Whip, but last year, environmental nonprofit 5 Gyres Institute found out that microbeads are also great at slowly clogging up the Great Lakes. In some areas of Lake Erie, researchers found more than 600,000 plastic particles per square kilometer.
In response, last week Johnson & Johnson announced that the company would phase out products with microbeads. Johnson & Johnson spokesperson Jay Kosiminsky made the following statement to 5 Gyres:
"At the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies, we’ve already begun the phase out of polyethylene microbeads in our personal care products. We have stopped developing new products containing plastic microbeads, and we are currently conducting an environmental safety assessment of a promising alternative. This assessment is part of our "informed substitution" approach, which helps ensure that the alternatives we choose are safe and environmentally sound, and that they provide consumers with a great experience. Our specific plans will be developed once this assessment is complete."
No word yet on what that "informed" substitute is, but hopefully it won’t be made out of petroleum. (As it is, we’ve contaminated our oceans with enough plastic as to create an entirely new ecosystem dependent on those bits of floating pollution.) 5 Gyres, meanwhile, reports that it’s in talks with Procter & Gamble, who have not yet made a commitment to halt microbead production.
"What an incredible day for the ocean! We’ve come a long in this campaign-–Unilever, The Body Shop, L’Oreal, Colgate-Palmolive have all announced commitments to end the use of microbeads," the nonprofit wrote on its website. "Please stay tuned in the coming days as we’ll need your help to get P&G to act–-we’ll be launching our campaign action page urging P&G to do what’s right."