Johnson & Johnson has started to phase out the use of polyethylene microbeads in beauty products, and is working on an eco-friendly alternative, after activists from environmental group the 5 Gyres Institute found large amounts of the beads in the Great Lakes.
Microbeads are used in beauty products as a means of scrubbing away dead skin. After being washed down the drain, the plastic beads are too small to be adequately captured by wastewater treatment and end up in rivers, lakes and the ocean.
Last summer, researchers from 5 Gyres trawled lakes Erie, Huron and Superior and collected large amounts of the round pellets that “matched the same size, color, texture and shape of the microbeads found in popular consumer products," the group's executive director, Marcus Eriksen told Reuters. He also said the group plans to publish the research in a peer-reviewed journal later this year.
The organization presented the results to Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, which prompted J&J’s pledge to eliminate the material from its products. P&G says it will phase out microbeads in products by 2017, according to Eriksen.
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5 Gyres says the microbeads can be mistaken for food by fish and ingested, which can later be ingested by humans. There currently is no practical way to remove the particles from the lakes, according to Eriksen. It also is unknown how long the particles can last.
To raise awareness and encourage companies to remove harmful plastics from their products, 5 Gyres has launched a consumer petition campaign called "Get Plastic Off My Face and Out of My Water Now!"
Last August, Johnson & Johnson announced plans to remove several potentially harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde from its line of adult consumer products by the end of 2015. The company also pledged last November to remove specific chemicals from its baby products, such as Johnson baby shampoo, by the end of this year.
Johnson & Johnson will phase out formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, which release trace quantities of methylene glycol, in addition to triclosan, a common antibacterial ingredient, and 1,4 dioxane, a byproduct of the process that makes cleansers mild and non-irritating.