Microplastics (< 5 mm) have been discovered in fresh and saltwater ecosystems, sediments, and wastewater effluent around the world. Their ability to persist and accumulate up food chains should be a concern as research is still experimenting with techniques to assess their long-term effects on the environment. I sought to characterize the microbeads found in facial exfoliating cleansers so as to better understand how to reduce this source of pollution through consumer use and wastewater treatment solutions. By sampling products from national-grossing cosmetic personal care brands, I was able to gather information on the size, color, volume, mass, and concentration of polyethylene beads in the cleansers. From that data, I modeled onto a consumer survey the estimated volume of microplastics entering a wastewater stream. Through inquiry, I learned the practices of two local wastewater treatment facilities. My findings show that consumer decisions and treatment protocols both play crucial parts in minimizing microplastic pollution.
Michelle Chang, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 101, Issue 1, Pages 330–333, 15 December 2015