Unilever, the manufacturer of Suave, Pond's Creams and Dove soaps along with hundreds of other household and personal care items, will be phasing out plastic micro beads commonly used in exfoliating soaps and scrubs, to benefit marine life, CNN reports.
By 2015, Unilever's products will be free from micro beads—at least the plastic kind—as the company says it's looking into alternatives. The current beads are made from "plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) long, and they are a major type of marine debris," according to CNN.
The tiny beads get into the environment and in particular, oceans, after being washed down drains. Incredibly small particles—tens of microns in diameter—can become a threat to marine invertebrates where the plastics can remain. And, once in the water system, scientists think the plastic can absorb contaminants before embedding in marine life. This is due to the large surface area of plastics compared with their volume, cites CNN, "offering ample opportunities for chemicals to latch onto their surfaces."
Researchers at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom simulated the process that a pollutant known as phenanthrene would undergo in the gut of a lugworm (commonly used as bait by fishermen), if attached to a contaminated piece of plastic. The research team noted that because the worm is at the bottom of the food chain, the risk of the chemicals spreading to larger creatures is high. And the risk increases for the lugworms to become contaminated depending on their environment. The researchers told CNN, "when a worm lives in a sedimentary environment high in natural carbon, such as sand on a beach, small plastic particles could increase the transport of chemicals to the worm. But in muddy conditions, where there is less carbon in the environment, there is less chemical transfer."
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