Johnson & Johnson has begun to phase out the use of polyethylene microbeads in beauty products, and is developing an environmentally friendly alternative, after activists from environmental group the 5 Gyres Institute found large quantities of the beads in the Great Lakes.
Microbeads are used in beauty products as a means of scrubbing away dead skin. The particles, which are often less than a millimeter across, are designed to wash away down the drain. However, all drains lead to somewhere and, after trawling lakes Erie, Huron and Superior last summer, researchers from the nonprofit collected large quantities of the round pellets matching the size, shape, texture and color of those used in consumer products, according to the group’s executive director, Marcus Eriksen, Reuters reports.
The nonprofit presented the results to Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, prompting Johnson & Johnson’s announcement, according to the news service. Eriksen says P&G will phase out microbeads in products by 2017, although the company did not answer Reuters’ calls to confirm this.
The particles can be easily mistaken for food by fish in the lakes and ingested and, in turn, may be ingested by humans, 5 Gyres says. According to Eriksen there is no practical way to remove the plastic from the lakes. The material’s lifespan is unknown.
The company already pledged last November to remove specific chemicals from its baby products, such as Johnson baby shampoo, by 2013.
Johnson & Johnson will phase out formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, which release tiny amounts of methylene glycol, as well as triclosan, a commonly used antibacterial ingredient, and 1,4 dioxane, a trace material that’s the byproduct of the process that makes cleansers mild and nonirritating.