This semester I had an amazing opportunity to intern for Five Gyres through the Office of Sustainability. Five Gyres is an organization, founded by Sylvia A. Earle, that researches plastic pollution in our ocean and discovers what solutions are out there to help out our ocean. During my internship, I learned so much about the issues at hand regarding our ocean and aquatic wildlife. I spent a lot of my work focusing on microplastics. Microplastics, or microbeads, are tiny plastic beads that are in our cosmetic and hygienic products. When we wash our face, tiny microbeads are washed down the drain. Water then goes through a water treatment plant where it is ‘cleansed’ before entering the ocean. Since microplastics are so small, a majority of the time the beads slip through the treatment plant and sneak into the ocean. Imagine how many microbeads float in our ocean from the thousands of people who wash their face on a daily basis. When in the ocean, the microbeads act as a sponge, absorbing many toxins and pollutants. These pollutants will either form gyres or float among the ocean. Aquatic wildlife feed on the toxic microbeads and for those who are meat-eaters, researchers are finding that people are ingesting these microplastics as well due to fish consumption.
This was saddening to learn but there are ways to help the ocean and its wildlife. LUSH cosmetics and Native Eyewear are two of many companies that are eco-friendly and aware of the ocean-polluting issue. All of LUSH’s products are animal-free tested, made naturally by hand, and does not contain microbeads. 80% of their products are vegan and their products have an expiration date because of the natural preservatives it contains. Native Eyewear is a cosmetic company that sells makeup made without any microplastics. So when someone goes to wash off his or her makeup, the makeup being washed down the drain is not harmful to the environment.
Soon, companies that do or do not contain microbeads in their products will no longer have the luxury option of choosing. A microbead ban is projected to go in action in January 2017. This ban will permit cosmetic and hygienic companies from making their products with microbeads.
Along with microbeads, I also did work with microfibers. Microfibers are tiny fibers that fall from clothing in washing machines. Just like microbeads, microfibers are too small to be caught in water treatment plants and they escape into the ocean. Patagonia outdoor clothing and gear is one of few companies that is trying to shift consumers to clothing without microfibers.
Working with Five Gyres was incredibly interesting and I have already made the switch to microplastic-free products. My toothpaste, cleanser, shampoo, lotion, and many more products all come from companies that promote a microplastic free lifestyle. It wasn’t a hard switch at all, especially after learning about the harmful effects that our cosmetic and hygienic products could have on our environment. If you visit Five Gyres website, they provide information on harmful plastic that are in people’s daily lives and solution to these issues.