Way back in the before-there-were-multiple-versions-of-Clearasil era, my brother happened upon a product called something like MegaScrub, which contained nine parts standard face goo and one part plastic beads, the better to scour one’s jowls with. Not wishing to appear to have an interest in, God forbid, cosmetics, he referred to the stuff as “True Grit.”
As has often happened with plastics over the years, we gave no thought to what happened after we tossed them out:
Legislation … introduced by Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney of Suffolk County [NY] on behalf of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman would prohibit the sale of cosmetic and beauty products that contain the beads, which are added to aid exfoliation and abrasion.
The beads appear in the tens of millions in the Great Lakes, according to scientists’ estimates, with high concentrations along the New York shores of Lake Erie. They become coated with toxins like PCBs and can be eaten by fish and other marine life. Scientists suggest that those toxins could be working their way back up the food chain to humans.
The beads and other bits of tiny “microplastic” debris slip through wastewater treatment plants and have also been found in the Los Angeles River and in the Pacific Ocean. Antipollution activists argue that limiting the use of cosmetics, which can have hundreds of thousands of beads in a bottle, can help limit the environmental risk.
I suppose it might be theoretically possible to make these little bits of polygravel decompose after some period of time, but this would almost certainly limit shelf life, and if there’s anything your local dollar store loves, it’s a five-year-old product they can sell for a few percent off list.