Have you ever used an exfoliating scrub or toothpaste? Chances are, it contained plastic microbeads. These tiny round beads look innocuous—but they’re actually pretty evil.


When we use products that contain them, these plastic microbeads go down the drain. Because they’re too small to be filtered—less than a grain of salt—they end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. In the United States, we release 8 billion plastic microbeads into the environment each day. That's nearly 3 trillion each year.

Once in the water, plastic microbeads attract persistent organic pollutants like flame retardants and other industrial chemicals linked to human health problems—even cancer. A single plastic microbead can be 1 million times more toxic than the water around it. These pollutants can work their way up the food chain—and onto our plates. A study found that one-quarter of all fish sold in California markets had microplastics and fibers in their guts.

We set out to fix this problem. In 2013, research conducted by 5 Gyres and SUNY Fredonia found a high concentration of plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes. The findings inspired a coalition of dedicated non-profits inspiring a community of passionate activists and in 2015, President Obama signed The Microbead-Free Waters Act into law. Beginning in 2017, it will be illegal for companies to manufacture products that contain plastic microbeads, and by 2018 the sale of these products will also be prohibited.

Many other countries—such as Canada, India, Norway, France, The Netherlands, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom—are preparing to ban microbeads. Even the United Nations recommended a worldwide ban.

In 2016, 5 Gyres launched the #beadfree Community Action pledge campaign to discourage the use of plastic microbeads, which diverted 16 billion microbeads from oceans and lakes in 2016—in just three months! Unfortunately, the story doesn’t stop there. At the current rate, more than 7.3 trillion microbeads will enter the marine environment before the Microbead-Free Waters Act becomes effective in 2018.

But the thing to remember about plastic microbeads is: You can avoid them. It’s simple: Pledge to go #beadfree and avoid products that contain polyethylene, polypropylene, polylactic acid (PLA), polystyrene, or polyethylene terephthalate.

Here are four more #beadfree actions you can take today:

  • If you own a product that contains plastic microbeads, don’t squirt it down the drain! Squeeze the contents into the trash, then recycle the plastic packaging.

  • Need a facial scrub? Make your own from natural ingredients like brown sugar and oatmeal. 

  • Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop on the fight against microbeads!

  • Check out our Plastic-Free Shopping Guide for options on how to live without plastic in your exfoliant.