Tag: plastic

Ditching Microbeads: The Search For Sustainable Skincare

Is smoother skin worth more than having potable water or edible fish?

For years, research has shown that beauty products made with tiny microbeads, gritty cleansers that scrub off dead skin cells, have been damaging water supplies, marine life and the ecological balance of the planet.

Beat the Microbead, an international campaign to ban the plastic beads, reports that marine species are unable to distinguish between food and microbeads.

According to the campaign, “over 663 different species were negatively impacted by marine debris with approximately 11% of reported cases specifically related to the ingestion of microplastics“.

To make things worse, microbeads can act like tiny sponges, absorbing several other dangerous chemicals, including pesticides and flame retardants. As they ingest microbeads, marine animals also consume these other poisons.




The obvious solution to the microbead problem is to cut it off at the source.

But while major cosmetic companies like Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble have pledged to phase out the use of microbeads in favor of natural alternatives, they also say that the shift could take several years.

And as more research is done, it appears that microbead replacements may come with dangers of their own.

Some of the natural replacements for microbeads also have negative consequences.

Greg Boyer, chair of the chemistry department at SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry, says a possible negative consequence is with degrading sugars that biochemically “burn” the sugar for energy.

A variety of biodegradable ingredients are available to developers.

Victoria Fantauzzi, co-founder of Chicago-based La Bella Figura Beauty, says that her company recently released a facial cleanser that uses enzymes found in papaya and pineapple, ingredients known to effectively exfoliate skin cells.

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Scientists Accidentally Produce An Enzyme That Devours Plastic

There are research teams around the world dedicated to finding a remedy for the growing plastic pollution crisis, but now it seems that one group of scientists have found a feasible answer — and they stumbled upon it by accident.

Researchers studying a newly-discovered bacterium found that with a few tweaks, the bug can be turned into a mutant enzyme that starts eating plastic in a matter of days, compared to the centuries it takes for plastic to break down in the ocean.

The surprise discovery was made when scientists began investigating the structure of a bacterium found in a waste dump in Japan.




The bug produced an enzyme, which the team studied using the Diamond Light Source, an intense beam of X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun.

At first, the enzyme looked similar to one evolved by many kinds of bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used by plants as a protective layer.

But after some gentle manipulation, the team actually improved its ability to eat PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the type of plastic used in drinks bottles.

Existing examples of industrial enzymes, such as those used in detergents and biofuels, have been manipulated to work up to 1,000 times faster in just a few years.

McGeehan believes the same could be possible with the new enzyme: “It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme.

According to the team, potential future uses for the enzyme could include spraying it on the huge islands of floating plastic in oceans to break down the material.

Plastic pollution has seen renewed focus in recent times, thanks largely to attention drawn by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series, and through a number of legislative proposals.

Science has examined a huge range of solutions, from plastic-plucking robots to infrared identification from space, but the discovery of this mutant enzyme could herald an entirely new way of dealing with the issue.

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Plastic Junk Brought Invasive Species to U.S. After Japan’s 2011 Tsunami

In 2011, a massive earthquake shook Japan and reshaped the seafloor. The quake shoved an area the size of Connecticut up by 30 feet.

The tsunami that followed killed roughly 18,000 people. As water swamped the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, three reactors melted down. Japan’s wounds are still healing.

The tsunami swept 5 million tons of debris into the ocean. Much of the junk did not degrade. Fiberglass boats, far-flung buoys and plastic shards swirled through the Pacific.

Some of the objects came to rest half a world away, like the 60-foot-long polystyrene and concrete dock that landed in Oregon in the summer of 2012.

The dock completed its 4,000-mile journey by beaching itself close to Oregon State University’s Marine Science Center.




A university biologist who specialized in marine invasive species was one of the first people to approach it. Researchers later discovered that the dock harbored close to 100 Japanese species.

That was the neon light,” said marine biologist James Carlton, a Williams College professor based in Mystic, Conn. “That was the harbinger of things to come.”

Carlton and a team of fellow scientists realized the Pacific Northwest faced a flood — not of water but borne by it, of unsinkable junk caked with marine life.

No one could stop the flood, but the researchers could at least document it. The scientists created a network of volunteers in Hawaii and Alaska, down the Pacific Northwest to the middle of California.

State and local officials, park rangers and legions of citizen scientists reported or bagged up what became known, in the biologists’ lingo, as JTMDs: Japanese tsunami marine debris.

If a boat landed on the beach in San Francisco,” Carlton said, “I’d get a call in my lab within a couple of hours.

The JTMDs ferried a lot of animals, as the scientists described in a paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

During six years of study, from June 2012 to February, Carlton and his colleagues counted more than 280 species of Japanese hitchhikers on 600 pieces of debris.

Most were spineless marine critters: sea stars, sea slugs, oysters, barnacles, mussels, amphipods, bryozoa and isopods. Only a few alien arrivals, two species of Japanese fish, had backbones.

This was unlike anything Carlton had witnessed in his 50 years of studying marine invasions, he said. “As time went on, the eyebrows keep going higher and higher. The jaw keeps dropping lower and lower.”

Although the scale of the event was unprecedented, the concept — that rafts carry animals across oceans — was not.

Transoceanic crossings have happened for millions of years.

A recent genetic study of trapdoor spiders found that they must have crossed on a raft from Africa to Australia a few million years ago.

The spider relatives on each continent were too closely related to have last shared an ancestor when Africa and Australia were still geologically connected, some 100 million years back.

Humans have witnessed these arrivals, too. In one well-documented case, 15 iguanas floated atop a cluster of uprooted trees to the Caribbean island of Anguilla in 1995.

The lizards have since established a breeding population on the island.

Of the Japanese species that arrived on the tsunami debris, about a third were already present on the American Pacific coast.

But the foreign animals colonized the wreckage long before the debris came close to shore, Carlton said. The authors of the recent study tracked how currents propelled the debris.

The JTMDs spent the bulk of their journey at sea. “It comes to shore within a few days, acquired by the coastal current — and then, bam! Onto the beach.

The debris at sea becomes like “traveling villages,” Fraser said. “Many rafting organisms brood their young — so their kids grow up on the same raft.” A raft doesn’t have to be artificial.

Fraser and her colleagues tracked marine life that moved hundreds of miles while attached to floating kelp.

Tsunami debris continues to wash up along the Pacific Northwest, most frequently following spring currents. Carlton said he expects the objects and their living cargo to arrive for the next 10 springs to come.

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