524 - Plastic products that should be illegal
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

As the 300,000th page view approaches (a number that is impressive for me, but more like a good week at popular blogs, or less than a day at the DailyKos), I am reminded that this is a good place for me to, from time to time, bring attention to issues that I consider important.

As a big fan of the oceans, and of aquatic sports of all kinds (SCUBA, Kayak, etc...), I am stuck with a very strong hatred for improper use of plastics. They are some of the most useful and important materials, but for the most part we use too much. And worse still, we don't dispose of plastics properly. Most plastic products don't need to be made from plastic at all. Not only does this material not break down quickly enough in the environment, but it also uses oil to produce, and we can hardly spare that much oil these days. There are many areas where plastic should no longer be used, but here are a few products that are so utterly bad for the environment, or so frequently abused, that they should simply be banned outright.

1.) Microbead facial scrub:

There is nothing wrong with proper hygiene and exfoliating (defoliating?) ones skin. But sadly there are some products that use tiny plastic beads to do the job. This has to be the single worst offender by design, if not by volume. These are tiny pieces of plastic, the most dangerous size, that are designed specifically to be used once then thrown down the drain. If one is lucky, they will be captured in a waste water treatment plant as sludge and then shipped off and used as soil. This is the best possible outcome, and it is already pretty sad. Or worse, and probably more likely, the plastic beads will wind up in the Ocean where they will adsorb toxins in huge concentrations (something that plastics happen to be good at) and then be eaten by animals. Eventually, you may meet up with your discarded plastic in some choice cut of sushi. This is the product that motivated me into making this particular post. The idea that a company would have the gall to make such a product is mind boggling. How is it even legal to do such a thing? And where is the EPA when it comes to something like this? At what point does the design of a product get some basic review to be sure that it does not cause excessive amounts of pollution? Well several corporations are guilty of making these products, here are some of the brand names:

* Dove Gentle Exfoliating Foaming Facial Cleanser
* Nivea face scrub
* Aveeno daily scrub
* Clean & Clear Oil-Free Daily Pore Cleanser
* Phisoderm Nurturing Facial Polish
* Garnier Nutritioniste Nuti-Pure Microbead Cream Scrub
* Neutrogena Body Clear body scrub
* L’Oreal Pure Zone Pore Unclogging Scrub Cleanser
* Ambi Even & Clear Skincare, Exfoliating Wash


Use a scrubbing sponge or brush
Use baking soda
Use a scrubbing wash that has a natural abrasive like coconut or almond shell
Use clean sand (!)

2.) Packaging peanuts:

These were invented in the 1960s, and are obviously perfect at protecting fragile objects during shipping. They are light and rather strong. But being so light can also pose a major problem; when introduced into the environment, these quickly blow away. And for the most part, blowing away means into water somewhere, mostly oceans. This type of foam probably does degrade rather quickly, at least into very small pieces. Because they float, they continue to get exposed to UV light which helps break plastics down quickly. But that hardly fixes the problem.


Boxes designed to hold objects securely
Biodegradable peanuts made from starch (I ate a few of these... horrible tasting but not toxic. Compare to the plastic counterpart that tastes fine, or at least neutral, but will probably clog up your gut.)

3.) Mylar Balloons:

These are among the most common forms of large plastic trash found on the Ocean or beach. The plastic material from these does not break down quickly, unlike the other most common type of balloon which is made from rubber. The shiny coating does break into small particles which probably also cause serious harm to the environment. Once the coating falls away, the balloon is translucent like so many other plastic bags and looks like food to many aquatic predators. Combined with the plastic string that is often colorful and curled, these balloons represent the best possible simulation of a Portuguese Man o' War siphonophore. Ready to choke a turtle.

The worst part about these is the fact that they are not particularly practical; no one ever needs a balloon. I would also consider outlawing helium in balloons, because this is how most of them enter the environment when people let them float away.

4.) Plastic fishing line:

Fishing is one of the most popular American hobbies. Many buy fishing equipment and use it from time to time, even if they do not take the hobby seriously. There is so much money in this hobby (and the impulse buys of so many who plan to fish but never really do) that my favorite kayak magazine recently switched their adds and theme from strictly touring and kayak vendors, to fishing from kayaks and fish related products.

Sadly, this popularity doesnt only hurt the fish that get hooked. Every year millions of hooks and lines are lost and tangled along the coastlines of this country. If you kayak, snorkel, SCUBA, or don't want your kids to get hooked by an over-sized three-barbed three-hooked lure that some macho man had to use in your swimming area (see my previous post if you can find it via google search on clay pigeons and lures in swimming areas), well you are out of luck.

By using plastic line and plastic lures, the fishing industry ensures that their products contaminate the environment for centuries. Obviously other materials wont work as well as mono-filament for many reasons; too expensive, not as strong, visible to fish... but that doesn't change the fact that this product ruins the beach for everyone else.


Biodegradable fishing line.

Other plastics that I might add to the list (including the more famous products that are already under attack by the environmental movement):

Plastic bags
Packing foams in general, the brittle white stuff in particular
Disposable plastic containers (water bottles, milk bottles, candy containers, etc...)
Disposable lighters
Tampon applicators

Are there any materials that you would also consider adding to a ban list?

posted by High Power Rocketry @ Tuesday, May 26, 2009  
  • At 5/27/09, 3:12 AM, Blogger Arjan said…

    couldn't agree more. I always find it strange that some stores just gíve a plastic bag with it even if they obviously see your backpack. I have to refuse in advance..instead of the other way around. And paperbags at least recycled, I know some stores you just use those.

  • At 5/27/09, 9:53 AM, Blogger R2K said…

    I also always have to say no bag. Then you often get a strange look as if you are crazy, or doing something wrong.

    They should only give bags on request, or probably really not have bags at all.

  • At 5/27/09, 6:20 PM, Blogger thimscool said…

    You have given me something to think about w/regards to fishing line, although I primarily fish in lakes and rivers.

    I get the paper bags and either recycle or reuse them as garbage bags. Plastic bags I try to avoid, but recycle them at the grocery store. I clean up shit when I go to the beach... I exfoliate with a sand blaster.

  • At 5/27/09, 9:31 PM, Anonymous SaveTheWhalesEatMoreDolphin said…

    You left out those plastic swords some use to garnish drinks. Many an unsuspecting person has been swashbuckled by these pestiferous daggers.

  • At 5/27/09, 11:46 PM, Blogger thimscool said…

    Butchie, is that you? Miss ya, brother.

  • At 6/17/09, 1:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


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