Microplastic Facts: Protect Watersheds From Apparel & Beauty Products

Riverkeeper, New York’s biggest clean water advocate was created to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries, as well as safeguard the drinking water of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. What began as the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association over 50 years ago, the organization has helped set worldwide standards for waterway and watershed protection and served as a model for more than 300 Keeper programs around the globe.

Of particular interest to us is the fashion industry’s impact on the waters in and around New York. As we read more about microplastics entering water streams not only from health and beauty products but apparel like fleece, we begin to see a greater need for the apparel industry to step it up.

Check out Riverkeeper’s fact sheet on what microbeads are and how you can help stop polluting your very precious water.

What are Microbeads?
Over the past ten years, producers of personal care products have added small plastic beads, commonly known as “microbeads” to hundreds of products including facial cleansers, body wash, shampoos, and toothpaste. Microbead pollution enters our waters when a product is used and washed off. This pollution is released into waters through sewage overflows or treatment plants not designed to remove microbeads.

What are the risks?
Microbeads attract and mix with toxic chemicals, such as PCBs or DDT, many of which have serious impacts on our waters and the creatures that live in them. Microbeads are similar in size to food sources for a number of fish and other marine creatures, leading them to consume the microbeads and the toxins that cling to them. The chemicals then accumulate as they move up the food chain to larger fish, wildlife and people.

Did you know?
A single product (like toothpaste) may contain up to 350,000 microbeads! According to the NYS Attorney General, some 19 tons of microbeads (the equivalent weight of 9.5 average cars) enter the wastewater stream in New York annually and microbeads have been found in large amounts in New York State’s waters.

Be an Informed Consumer
Avoid personal care products containing polyethylene or polypropylene (there’s an app for that: Beat the Microbead). Purchase products using natural, safe substitutes (e.g. cocoa beans, apricot shells, salt crystals) to plastic microbeads that are already on the market.

The Federal Ban
Microbead-Free Waters Act bans rinse-off cosmetics that contain intentionally-added plastic microbeads beginning on January 1, 2018, and to ban manufacturing of these cosmetics beginning on July 1, 2017.

Want to learn more about New York State’s waters, don’t forget to RSVP for our Riverblue documentary screening March 22 and meet Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay!

To learn more about how brands are taking on sustainable strategies, check out our Sustainable Fashion Roadmap tool.