The 5 Gyres Institute, in collaboration with researchers from SUNY Fredonia, have published the first micro-plastic pollution survey of the Great Lakes Region in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. Says 5 Gyres’ Dr. Marcus Eriksen, lead author on the paper, “We found high concentrations of micro-plastics, more than most ocean samples collected worldwide. These were of similar size, shape, texture and composition to plastic microbeads found in many consumer products used as exfoliants, giving us circumstantial evidence that these products, designed to be washed down the drain, are not adequately being captured by sewage treatment.” 

5 Gyres is the first research organization to study all 5 Oceans, and the only organization to study the southern hemisphere gyres. After completing that work, the subject of a forthcoming scientific paper, 5 Gyres sailed throughout The Great Lakes in two expeditions to quantify the presence of plastics. 

The highest abundance measured was 466,000 particles/km2 with an average of 43,000 particles/km2 throughout all the samples. The highest concentrations of micro-plastics were observed in Lake Erie, and accounted for about 90% of the total plastics found. In addition to polyethylene and polypropylene beads found in the samples, there were also particles of aluminum silicate, or coal ash, a byproduct of coal fired power plants. 

With these findings, The 5 Gyres Institute launched a Corporate Social Responsibility campaign last year asking the manufacturers of personal care products to pledge to remove these plastic microbeads from their products. Faced with this preliminary evidence, now solidified by the scientific paper’s publication in a peer-reviewed journal, many of the companies targeted have agreed to phase out the use of these beads, namely, L’Oreal, The Body Shop, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble. Though a tremendous victory for The Great Lakes, 5 Gyres recognizes the need for further engagement. Several states and municipalities have expressed a desire to consider legislation banning micro-plastics as ingredients in consumer products because of their tendency to escape sewage treatment. 5 Gyres is working with a team of advisors to produce model legislation for states to consider. 

Continuing the grassroots campaign will only buoy these legislative efforts. In partnership with The Plastic Soup Foundation (Netherlands) and Stichting De Noordzee (Netherlands), The 5 Gyres Institute has launched the microsite as well as the international mobile app. “Beat The Microbead” which allows consumers to scan the barcode of personal care products to determine whether they contain plastic microbeads and whether the manufacturer has agreed to remove them or not. 

“The Beat The Microbead app. is a powerful tool that takes the guess work out of whether or not you’ll be washing your face with plastic, ” says 5 Gyres Policy Director, Stiv Wilson, “Since launching our public awareness and corporate facing campaign, the overwhelming reaction from our community is shock and anger. People simply don’t like washing their face with plastic, and the fact that it’s designed to go straight into the environment makes microbeads a particularly egregious source of plastic pollution. These beads are similar in size to fish eggs and can absorb and concentrate toxins found in the aquatic environment, making them an ecosystem wide threat to the food chain. This can ultimately threaten human health as well. ” 5 Gyres volunteers across the country are working to add to the ever growing database of products that employ micro-beads. 

About The 5 Gyres Institute
The 5 Gyres Institute, for a planet free of plastic pollution, is a non-profit organization dedicated to researching the issue of plastics in the world’s oceans, and engaging communities in systemic change. In 2011, 5 Gyres completed the first global survey of plastic marine pollution, finding evidence of plastic across all 5 subtropical “gyres”, oceanic current systems where plastic waste accumulates. In addition to contaminating precious marine ecosystems, plastic waste threatens wildlife, and poses risks to human health as toxic chemicals from plastic enter the food chain we depend on. Utilizing scientific findings, 5 Gyres engages corporate partners, policymakers, and the general public to reduce plastic pollution by improving product design, recovery systems, and individual responsibility for plastic waste.