Five Gyres – Microplastics

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.

9 thoughts on “Five Gyres – Microplastics

  1. This post lead me to do a little more research on the topic and better understand what a gyre is oceanography terminology. I am glad you shared this and I hope that it impacts others.

    I know for GMOs that they do not have to label GE ingredients on packaging, do products that contain microbeads have to label them (I do not know why they would, I suppose), is that even a thing?

    Also, does the Five Gyres website offer product suggestions for consumers that are free of microbeads?

  2. Wow! The issue of microbeads is something I truly knew nothing about, so reading this blog post was so interesting and informative. Next semester I am traveling abroad through semester at sea; I am wondering where I could find/ how I could make toothpaste, shampoo, and body wash that do not contain these microplastics because I do not want to further contaminate the ocean, especially since I will be on a ship for three months!
    Also, I m so happy to hear that these microbead products will soon be banned- I wonder if in other countries they also use microbead products or if they have already been banned?

  3. I went to an event about this on Wednesday night. There was a speaker there from the 5 Gyres Institute and she talked about the problems with plastic bags and showed us samples of plastic that was pulled out of sea turtles and other marine mammals. Very interesting! I would love to intern there!

  4. I think it’s really cool that you did research on microplastics and it led you to being more conscious about what kind of products you use. I also did research with microplastics, and it changed my views as well. Last year, I collected pluff mud samples from different areas of the Charleston Harbor and did counts of how many microplastic pieces were in small five gram samples of mud, and for some samples, the number was well over 100 pieces, which was just more than I ever expected to find in that small of a sample. Hopefully more people will become aware of this issue, and we can reduce the amount in our environment.

  5. I found this blog post to very informative. I was not aware of the effects of microbeads nor what they can do to the environment. I’m a huge advocate for LUSH products just because there natural. I’m glad I’m able to help out just by using those products and encouraging others to use them as well.

  6. Your post was super interesting. I use to use products with microbeads, especially face wash. However once I learned of their harmful effects I made the switch. I think it’s really easy to forget that when you wash those products down the drain they actually do go somewhere, instead of just “away”. I think this is a problem that a lot of consumers have, in our society its hard to remember that everything we buy comes from somewhere and everything we through must go somewhere.

  7. The harmful impact microbeads have on the environment is an issue that is not discussed enough in the news in my opinion. As you mentioned, most cosmetic and hygienic products contain microplastics. Exposing large companies for using them would be detrimental to their business, which is why I feel this issue is silenced. I am interested to see the changes in products that occur in 2017, once the microplastic ban is put into place. I too, go out of my way to buy products that do not contain microplastics however, it is very hard to avoid them. One day I was searching for a half hour in CVS, for a toothpaste without microplastics in it. I appreciate you listing brands that are environmentally sustainable and do not use microplastics or microbeads. It must have been an awesome learning experience to be able to conduct research on microplastics this semester.

  8. I had no idea about the microbeads in personal care products or microfibers most clothing contains. I am now very curious to find out how many hygiene and cosmetic products that I use contain these harmful pollutants (if they will even be listed as an ingredient). After attending the Bag It event, and learning about the massive amount of micro plastics found in the ocean already, it is saddening to learn that even more of our everyday products are contributing to this mess. I found your post to be very informative and hope the issue at hand is made more obvious to the general public. I’m excited to hear that there will soon be a ban in place, and in the meantime plan to switch my daily products to micro plastic free alternatives.

  9. Thank-you so much for this post, Karina, and all the work you’ve done interning at Five Gyres! I haven’t heard of this organization before, and I’m glad that you’ve brought my attention to it. While I’ve also avoided products with microbeads, I did not know anything about the problem of microfibers. Now I know and will try my best to not be part of the problem but the solution.

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