Plastic makes it possible (Part 3) -Change by design
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

August 3, 2014

In recent months, you may have heard of the “microbead” story. That is, of all the popular face and body scrubs you use while bathing, many contain blue or green plastic dots to help exfolliate. You may have also heard that these microbeads are contributing to an ecological disaster. Gizmodo recently reported that a single bottle of face-wash, contains up to 330,000 plastic microbeads. Those beads are carried down the drain towards larger waters and in the great lake states, it’s adding up to concentrations of 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer in Lake Ontario (as reported by NPR). Some estimates of Lake Erie show that of the plastic found, 90% represents plastic microbeads (Eriksen et al 2013). It is such a problem that legislation has already been passed in Illinois and New York and is drafted for California.

When considering this story and others like it, I would draw attention to the process at large and the implications thereof. We observe a trend in which exfoliation scrubs become popular. Companies including L’Oreal, Colgate-Palmolive, Procter and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson and Unilever, which owns soap companies St. Ives, Pond’s, Noxema, Caress, Dove, Axe, and Suave, all jump on the band wagon and start producing these products on a major scale, and within a few short years, we’re confronted with an ecological disaster. Now there is credit to be given to many of the above companies as they work with legislators to phase out the use of microbeads. However, when it comes down to it, they are responsible for having gone down that path of production using plastic in the first place instead of another inert material like ground almond shells for example. It is important to consider the results of a fundamentally flawed product design as the speed at which it becomes a problem under our current paradigm accelerates. These production giants operate on a global scale and as such, when they commit to a manufacturing product, the volume is overwhelming. It means that they bear increasingly more responsibility to design products right the first time, with the “cradle to cradle” method of design, central and forefront to any new product.

As a global population, we can try to educate ourselves to curb our consumption of faulty products, but it is in the design where the biggest gains can be made. So what is there to be done about it? …Well, if you’re into product design or engineering, corporate outreach, sustainable development, or common sense, these companies clearly could use some help. I’ll start by sending this to Unilever as a good start.


Eriksen, Marcus; Mason, Sherri; Wilson, Stiv; Box, Carolyn; Zellers, Ann; Edwards, William; Farley, Hannah; Amato, Stephen (2013). “Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes”. Marine Pollution Bulletin 77:177-182.

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