Mixed In Giant Vats

This is soooooo ugly.

Marcus Eriksen sticks a net into the Los Angeles River, and finds bazillions of eensy-weensy bits of plastic. He sticks a net into the Great Lakes, and finds ’em too. “Microbeads” come from exfoliating beauty products, and there are over 300,000 of them in a single tube of facial scrub.

That’s a lot.

These little blobs of polyethylene and polypropylene are going to be phased out by cosmetics manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble (by 2017), L’Oreal, Body Shop, and Johnson & Johnson (by 2015). Researchers in the Great Lakes study approached the manufacturers with their findings (and also noted that there are harmless alternatives to the synthetic materials, like cocoa husks).

If there is a bright side in this miserable plastic tide, it’s that the companies were somewhat responsive and responsible:

“Typically, when environmental organizations and scientists engage companies, sometimes it gets heated and the discussions last for years,” Eriksen said.

“But in this case, I was really impressed to see that we took science … to the companies and, without having to spend time and money involved in a policy solution, the companies themselves chose to solve it on their own.”


Well, that’s a relief, I suppose. But how many tubes of exfoliant facial scrub get washed down the drains of the industrialized world every day? Those little flecks of plastic don’t biodegrade; they don’t get picked up by water treatment plants; they float into big bodies of water and get eaten — which means they eventually get eaten again and again, until they wind up in our bodies.

Need I mention that the casually ubiquitous plastic everywhere around us also finds its way into the water system? All those Dunkin Donuts stir sticks, shredded bags, and who knows what else…

“Microplastic is now a ubiquitous contaminant in the Pacific Ocean — and seas around the world,” said Eriksen, a scientist with the 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to researching plastics in the world’s waterways. “We believe that 80% of it comes from coastal watersheds like Los Angeles.”

Eriksen is just starting to test the Los Angeles River to determine if it holds microbeads, and if so, their source. On Friday, he found what he was looking for in about 10 minutes.

Near the confluence of the river and Arroyo Seco, about three miles north of downtown, Eriksen found a handful of algae and wriggling leeches speckled with tiny filaments, shards and beads that could have come from myriad sources: laundry wastewater, degraded plastic bags, stir sticks, personal care products.


The 5 Gyres Institute, which uncovered the problem, is not satisfied with 2015 and 2017. They’re working on a petition to get this shit banned as soon as humanly possible, and we should all go sign it right now.

“Using a net only 2 feet wide for 10 minutes in a stream a few hundred feet across, I caught dozens of bits of plastic,” he said. “So, it’s easy to extrapolate that millions of plastic particles flow through this channel every day.”

I couldn’t find a song about plastic microbeads, but I did find this gem from GreenSangha.org

Shoulda brought your own bag / Yeah but you forgot it though
You were busy dreamin of ice cream and all that cookie dough

Your life is wrapped in plastic / Convenience is your motto
But plastic addiction’s worse than they want you to know

BP’s oil spill / Almost like we did it –
We use one million grocery-bags every single minute

Recycling them’s a joke yo / That baggie don’t go anywhere
It turns to little pieces and then it spreads over everywhere

Into your food supply / Into your blood supply
Not to mention birds and fish and Cuties you don’t wanna die

Just look at baby Sammy / Dioxins in its milky way,
cuz even her breast milk it’s got PCB and BPA

OK now you get it / How you gonna stop it though
Banning Single Use Plastic Bags is the way to go!

Join other states and cities / Kick the nasty habit
Tell your representatives
Ban single-use bags made from

Fossil product all your crap’s made of
There’s one thing we can do
Ban bags made of plastic
Skip the bag, the cup and spork dude
Convenience will kill you
Ban single use plastic toxic bags

Sustainably we go forth and save our cities
Bringing your own bag and forks and bottles should be easy
But corporations selling toxins bought the government
Stand together for yourself, your kids, the planet sayin’

Yeah, yeah,
Ban single-use bags made of

Fossil product all your crap’s made of
There’s one thing we can do
Ban bags made of plastic

Bring your own don’t you forget dude
And let your reps know too
Ban single use plastic toxic bags!

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