From: Madeline Valinski, University of Delaware, Environmental Studies, 2015
Published December 2, 2013 11:10 AM

COLLEGIATE CORNER: Consumer Awareness and Micro Plastics

Micro plastics are some of the worst water pollutants; they not only harm the local wildlife, but also accumulate into fish that humans consume and cause major health problems. These micro plastics are accumulating not only in oceans, but also freshwater areas, like the Great Lakes. In fact, a 2012 study conducted by the Burning River Foundation found approximately 80,000 particles of micro plastic per km2 in Lake Erie. This high concentration of micro plastic particles is highly concerning for human health and the health of local ecosystems.



Johnson & Johnson denies that their exfoliating personal care products are contributing to this pollution. In a statement regarding the phase out of micro plastics in their products, J & J believes that the micro beads are removed from water during wastewater treatment and the micro plastics found in water are from plastic bags breaking down. However, the 2012 study conducted by the Burning River Foundation found that the majority of the micro plastics were spherical and the same color, which suggest they were released as micro beads from personal care products.

Unlike J & J, Unilever has recently announced that they would stop using micro plastics by 2015 due to concerns about micro plastics in water sources. While Unilever does not accept full responsibility for the presence of micro plastics in water, they do accept responsibility for their part of the problem, which is refreshing. Many companies do not accept responsibility for the environmental damages they cause, which results in continued water pollution.

While it is wonderful that a company as large as Unilever is making this pledge to stop using plastics in their products, it is disconcerting that most people do not know that there are plastics in some of the soaps that they use. There is very little consumer awareness of the various environmental impacts of the soaps on water quality, and even less awareness of which products contain these contaminants.

Consumer awareness is the first step to combatting similar water pollution problems; unless people know that there is a problem, they will not have the motivation to ask the company to disregard the most economical option to instead pursue the more environmentally friendly option. Unilever has made this pledge to stop utilizing micro plastics in their soaps and body washes due to consumer concern, and it is only through additional consumer concern that companies will stop using other hidden water pollutants.

This story is part of the Collegiate Corner, a section of ENN dedicated to student work. All work in this column is the product of the student in its entirely. If you have questions about the Collegiate Corner or would like to submit please contact:

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