Blogs > Docket > Let’s band together to stop microbeads from polluting our waterways

Let’s band together to stop microbeads from polluting our waterways


View more images on our Flickr site


Microbeads in toothpaste. Photo: Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

Microbeads in toothpaste. Photo: Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

What are Microbeads?

Over the past ten years, producers of personal care products have added small plastic beads, commonly known as “microbeads” to hundreds of products including facial cleansers, body wash, shampoos, and toothpaste. Microbead pollution enters our waters when a product is used and washed off. This pollution is released into waters through sewageoverflows or treatment plants not designed to remove microbeads (Brown et al., 2012; Leslie et al., 2012).

Infographic from the 5 Gyres Institute

What are the risks?
Microbeads attract and mix with toxic chemicals, such as PCBs or DDT, many of which have serious impacts on our waters and the creatures that live in them (Lithner et al., 2011). Microbeads are similar in size to food sources for a number of fish and other marine creatures, leading them to consume the microbeads and the toxins that cling to them. The chemicals then accumulate as they move up the food chain to larger fish, wildlife and people (Farrel & Nelson, 2013).

The Story of Stuff explains microbeads.

Learn more about what microbeads are doing to our environment from the 5 Gyres Institute.

Did you know?

Photo: Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

Photo: Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

A single product (like toothpaste) may contain up to 350,000 microbeads (5 Gyres et al., 2013)! According to the NYS Attorney General, some 19 tons of microbeads (the equivalent weight of 9.5 average cars) enter the wastewater stream in New York annually and microbeads have been found in large amounts in New York State’s waters (Schneiderman, 2014).


Listen to our friends at WNYC and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater explain the microbeads problem in the Hudson River.

What is Riverkeeper Doing? Get Involved!
Pass a county/municipal ban. Riverkeeper supports local action and has drafted “Model County/Municipal Microbeads Legislation”. Sale or use of products containing microbeads within a particular county or municipality can be banned by passage of a local law. Erie County Legislature just passed the strongest ban on microbeads in the United States, to date, an example we urge other local governments to follow. For more information on this model legislation, please contact [email protected].

Demand a statewide ban. Call or write to your state representatives or senators and tell them to support the Microbead-Free Waters Act (A.5896/S.3932), which would prohibit the manufacture, distribution and sale of personal care products containing microbeads in New York State.

Batir el Microbead. Courtesy of the Plastic Soup Foundation

Beat the Microbead App. Courtesy of the Plastic Soup Foundation

Be an informed consumer. Avoid personal care products containing polyethylene or polypropylene (there’s an app for that: Beat the Microbead). Purchase products using natural, safe substitutes (e.g. cocoa beans, apricot shells, salt crystals) to plastic microbeads that are already on the market.

M.A. Browne et al., ‘Accumulations of microplastic on shorelines worldwide: sources and sinks’, in: Environmental Science &Technology 45 (2011), pp. 9175/9179

H.A. Leslie et al., ‘Verkennende studie naar lozing van microplastics door rwzi’s’ in: H2O 14/15 (juli 2012), pp. 45-47.

D. Lithner et al., ‘Environmental and health hazard ranking and assessment of plastic polymers based on chemical composition’, in: Science of the total environment 409 (2011), pp. 3309–3324.

P. Farrel en K. Nelson, ‘Trophic level transfer of microplastic: Mytilus edulis (L.) to Carcinus maenas (L.)’, in: Environmental Pollution 177 (2013), pp. 1-3.

5 Gyres Institute et al., “Microplastics in consumer products and in the marine environment” (2013). Available at

Office of NYS AG Eric Schneiderman. “Unseen Threat: How Microbeads Threaten New York Waters, Wildlife, Health, and Environment.” (2014) Available at

Tell Gov. Hochul to block invasive species at the Erie and Champlain canals
Become a Member