Dear Recyclebank: Last year I was sent a facial product to test. It had microbeads, which I’ve heard have now been outlawed. How should I dispose of the unused product? –Beth R.
Dear Beth: From the sound of it, you haven’t been using the sample, which is great — the last thing you want to do is continue using the product.
Microbeads are small plastic (polyethylene or polypropylene) beads that are designed to be flushed down the drain — but they’re a problem because once they are in the sewer line they easily move through water treatment plant filters and end up in our watersheds, where they add to the plastic soup, absorb toxins, and become fish food. One group of scientists from the Society for Conservation Biology estimated that more than eight trillion microbeads end up in America’s aquatic habitats each day. Thankfully, on December 28 last year, the President signed into law H.R. 1321, which “prohibits the manufacture and introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads”.
Luckily, for those of us who have microbeads hiding in our medicine cabinets, there are a couple options for responsible disposal.
First, call the manufacturer to find out if they will accept returns. Be sure to ask the rep you speak with how they dispose of them; after all, you don’t want to spend time and money shipping your product across the country only to have it end up in a landfill or worse, down the drain. Some manufacturers will offer you samples of other products or coupons for microbead-free alternatives. Some will even reimburse you for the unused product. Kiehl’s, a popular skincare company, recently removed two products from distribution because they contained microbeads. A company representative told us that Kiehl’s money-back guarantee would be honored even if the product were mostly empty, so feel free to send them your half used exfoliators.
If your items can’t be returned to your manufacturer, don’t fret; there is another great way to get them out of your hands and keep them out of your local landfill. Send them to 5Gyres Institute, a nonprofit that has led the social media campaign #banthebead. They are collecting products containing microbeads to use the microbeads in educational kits.
Finally, if you can’t afford the postage to ship your product to a safe location, the next best thing is to throw it in the trash. You can perhaps get some additional use out of the remaining cleanser itself by straining the unused product through a coffee filter to separate out the beads — whatever plastic beads are left behind should be put in your waste bin, and then (depending on the type of container) you can recycle the container it came in.
There are so many great natural exfoliants, like oatmeal, walnut, and apricot shells, and even sugar. It won’t take long to find one that works for your skin type. The next time you’re at the store looking for a new body wash, face scrub, toothpaste or sunscreen, check the list of ingredients for polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polylactic acid (PLA), nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) before you check out. If one or more of them are listed, leave the product on the shelf. If the ingredient list is long, you can also just scan the barcode using Plastic Soup Foundation’s app Beat the Microbead. The app will not only tell you if the product contains microbeads, but also whether the manufacturer plans to phase out the use of microbeads in the future. Want to see if your go-to product has microbeads? Check out Beat The Microbead’s list of offenders to see if yours is safe.