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US to ban soaps and other products containing microbeads (theguardian.com)
293 points by benologist on Dec 11, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 221 comments

While it's cool and all that this has been done, it's many years after credible people started warning about the dangers of these products. The fact that manufacturers kept making this stuff with knowledge of the damage it was causing is pretty damning, and is the kind of thing that makes me mistrustful of arguments that the free market will sort things like this out. There's just no good mechanism to stop massive harm to common resources (even now, we don't have a good mechanism to stop this kind of thing, since it took years to do so, even for something as uncontroversial as this...our system barely even puts a dent in the ecological harm of fossil fuels, animal agriculture, etc.).

> mistrustful of arguments that the free market will sort things like this out. There's just no good mechanism to stop massive harm to common resources

Most arguments that the free market can handle these problems start out with the recommendation that the resources involved (rivers, lakes, ocean) should be privatized. Economist Walter Block and others have written about ways this could be done. To fault free market arguments for not working when the waterways aren't privatized is to misrepresent the arguments. Most people aren't arguing that the free market is going to solve problems relating to unowned, unownable, or government owned property without first recognizing private property rights in those resources.

Governments often protects polluters by limiting their liability. If that were changed, and assuming these resources (bodies of water) were privatized so non-governmental parties had standing to sue, if you have an argument why a class action lawsuit or something like that can't handle these problems, then that would be an interesting comment. But just saying the free market doesn't solve problems where there are no property rights is rather uninteresting, because free marketers agree with that.

Also it's pretty amusing that a failure of government (who owns the waterways, and most of the sewer systems) to solve this problem sooner somehow gets twisted into a failure of the free market (who doesn't own these resources). Without property rights there's no free market.

I agree that governments, who subsidize animal feed, water, land, and waste, and prosecute activists, do a great deal of harm to the environment by promoting and protecting animal exploitation. I'm fine with banning animal exploitation, even on private property, and I see that as no more anti-free market than banning slavery on private property.

Yes, because a private entity completely owning natural resources like lakes and forests, will completely prevent those resources from being ruthlessly exploited. Those private entities would rationally take a long term vision, and certainly wouldn't exploit those resources until there's nothing left.

There's certainly merit in trying to make people pay for externalities (offsetting carbon pollution for example), but you can't do that for everything. Privatizing everything might be an appealing free-market pipe dream, but unless we can completely/mostly stop externalities from happening, such an experiment would be a disaster.

I'm reminded of when hedge funds bought out old family owned logging companies via leveraged buyouts. The only way it made business sense was to clear cut everything and then close the mills down when the trees were gone.

Can you link to something elaborating on this? This seems pretty odd to me.

I guess it would work in the magical world of economists. In that world, there would be active competition for the ownership of the rivers (i.e. lots of players) and consumer have perfect information and are rational (i.e. they will avoid product that directly or indirectly cause pollution )

This doesn't reflect the content of any econ course I've taken, nor the views of any of my econ professors. There's a ton of study in economics about the types of effective roles government can play when dealing with positive and negative externalities, and "tragedy of the commons" situations.

Economists that believe everything can be sorted out in the free market are pretty fringe.

I don't see any evidence of that.

You can't take your wealth with you upon death -- Property owners of valuable resources nearly always maximize exploitation in the short term and could give a shit about the long term.

If they took a long term view, we'd still have old growth forest in the US.

I think that was his point as well.

> Yes, because a private entity completely owning natural resources like lakes and forests, will completely prevent those resources from being ruthlessly exploited.

The statement was heavily sarcastic.

I don't think this has anything to do with exploiting resources. If someone owned all the rivers, then they could sue the companies producing microbeads for any damages.

Not caring for the long term is still a massive problem for our civilization. I don't know if that has anything to do with privatization. I'm very skeptical that governments or voters care more about the long term than private markets. At least individuals care about leaving money for retirement. And even if you don't care, it's still senseless to deprecate your assets' value more than you gain from exploiting it.

> completely owning natural resources like lakes and forests

They wouldn't completely own them, they'd have property rights in them. Depending on how the property rights are structured you could have many owners of say a lake or a river.

> Those private entities would rationally take a long term vision

If there's anything we know about politicians up for re-election in two years or unable to run for another term it's that they take a long-term approach to problems. /s

If you actual had a vested interest to protect something though it would be more likely to actually end up protected.

Or the polluting company with deep pockets would just buy the land and do whatever they wanted.

An unregulated free market is a terrible idea. It ends in massive monopolies and natural resource destruction at an absolute level.

It's not a bad thing that that's what a free market moves towards, per se, but that's why it needs to be and is regulated. Any worthwhile conversation isn't about whether or not to regulate it, it's a what level.

Or you sell the right to abuse the land or waterways. Then turn around and when all the clean water is gone, purify it and sell it!

Carbon rights?

Doesn't sound very appealing for next quarters profits, the true driver of all decisions.

I spent many years trying to work out how that could be made to work, in a world where the people with the most money and ability to buy those resources being destroyed are also the people with the most interest in seeing them destroyed without impediment. I just can't make the math work out. When the oil and gas industry can cause wars involving the world's largest nations, in pursuit of their profits, how can I believe empowering them to buy every river will save those rivers? In a world where they can literally buy armies (even more directly and with even less impediment than they have today), how can I believe there will be less violence over oil?

I've read the same authors you've read on the subject (believe me, I hear you, and I have made the same arguments you're making more times than I can count). I was for many years a libertarian (big L and little l...card-carrying member of the party, worked for ballot access, etc.). I just don't believe in the premises of libertarianism any more. At least, not the free market uber alles part of those premises.

Also, I can't reconcile the idea of unlimited capital accumulation in the hands of a few that spans generations (e.g. land, water access, etc.) in a world of limited resources with my own beliefs about fairness, justice, and human freedom.

How do you feel about the notion of breaking from our feudal tradition and advocating for basic income? What excites me most about the idea is people would be free to check out of the system and use their own creativity to survive and thrive. Soon, when intellectual capital is understood to be the most valuable, this investment will be returned with dividends.

I support a basic income. Honestly, I think it is inevitable, or a lot of people will starve as we move past the need for a lot of unskilled labor. There simply won't be work for everyone...if we adhere to the old notion that everyone has to earn the basic necessities of survival, well, the results will be catastrophic. It's unfortunate that we'll have to wait until everything else has been tried before settling on the one thing that could actually positively change outcomes for huge swaths of people. There's already a lost generation of people who will never escape their school debt.

> I was for many years a libertarian (big L and little l...card-carrying member of the party, worked for ballot access, etc.). I just don't believe in the premises of libertarianism any more.

What took you so long?

Limited exposure to some parts of the real world. I read a lot, worked a lot, and didn't make time for travel. I had few friends who were significantly different from me in terms of money/education/class/race/etc. Kinda like most people. A few years traveling full-time, getting to know homeless folks and undocumented folks, and seeing how class and race plays out in our "free market" system changed my mind on a few things.

And, I think dismissing libertarianism out of hand, as though it has no interesting/valuable ideas, is somewhat silly. The LP was literally decades ahead of the curve on LGBTQ rights, ending the war on drugs, and opposition to war (of all sorts). All at a time when those ideas were extremely unpopular in mainstream politics. I disagree with the premises behind their economic policy ideas, but it doesn't mean I don't understand the allure of the non-aggression principle (I just think they're mistaken about capitalism being free of aggression).

So, how about you? What took you so long to come to your views? Why weren't you born with the correct ideas on every issue? Or were you? You reckon you're right on everything now? How embarrassing it'll be when you find out in five years you were wrong about something today.

I think you misread my comment as sarcasm. It was an honest inquiry, if a little facetious. I should have written it differently. Thanks for sharing.

Given that you ask, my views on these things seem to be very similar to yours today, based on what you've written here. I've considered myself a small-l libertarian for most of my life. I think the difference is that I've never found the ideological purity of big-L Libertarianism very attractive.

That's why I asked the question. I really would like to understand what it takes to convince someone who buys into the Libertarian party line to embrace ideas like basic income, and to realize that privatizing everything simply will not result in the outcomes they think it will. I wonder if it's possible to convince them without their having had the kinds of life experiences you have had.

I think that libertarian ideas and libertarian activists could be a effective force for reform in this country--if only the most motivated (people like you who are motivated enough to work on things like ballot access) were willing to make the kinds of ideological compromises and embrace the kinds of ideas (like basic income) that could make libertarianism more broadly appealing.

My inquiry was also sincere, even if the tone seems harsh online. I was joking, on the assumption that most folks here are at least willing to examine their views on occasion.

The answer to what it takes to change minds on any subject?

Not taking a tone of "you're clearly an idiot". I do it all the time (particularly on issues I'm passionate about, like the horror that is animal agriculture), but it doesn't convince anyone, it just puts them on the defensive. And humans have somewhat broken brains such that defending a position makes one believe that position more strongly and more fiercely (even if it is demonstrably ridiculous; e.g. anti-vaccine folks).

Convince them to get outside of their comfort zone. Travel, activism, and volunteering, is what did it for me. Activism and volunteering probably need to be with and on behalf of folks unlike oneself to have any impact.

Ask questions rather than arguing. If someone discovers the uncomfortable points of their position on their own, they'll be willing to change their mind. One of the founders of CFAR (Center for Applied Rationality) once asked me a few questions that may have even planted the seeds of my change of heart when we happened to meet in NYC...specifically, she asked about the source of property rights, since I don't believe in gods, so I can't simply handwave it away as a " god given right". That stuck with me, because it's clear to anyone who is sincere that property is merely a fiction we all agree on, and it is a fiction that can be taken to unhealthy extremes. Asking the right questions is harder than ranting, but it actually works to change opinions, and serves to keep the conversation on a level of friendly chat rather than two ideologues bloviating.

And that's, maybe, all I know about that.

I think you just went to dark side. The side of snub deuche baggery people. Sorry could not help :)

Those arguments are based on the premise that the free market can solve all problems. Thus when something fails it's because there's not enough free market.

The other explanation is that the premise is wrong.

If the free market doesn't work together with anything that isn't organized as a free market then it's a flaw of the free market system. There always will be things that aren't a free market.

More specifically, a free market system can solve most problems it is applied to, given:

1. Property rights exist and are enforced. 2. There are minimal barriers to entry. 3. Transaction costs are low.

(#2 is of less interest here.)

The classic market failures all involve a violation of one of these. The tragedy of the commons is a property-rights failure, monopolies are a barrier-to-entry failure, and lots of other miscellaneous exploitation and big-corporate-player centralization issues are related to transaction-cost issues.

In this case, it's quite clear that property rights do not exist and are not enforced on things like the Atmosphere or the Ocean (good luck doing that internationally), and even if they did, imagine the transaction costs of tracking exactly how much in microbead pollution a given person has flushed down the drain? Anyone crying 'free market solution!' is being quite silly.

Those three conditions are not enough.

What would prevent someone from, say, buying up all the water and then not selling any of it, or selling just a little to a handful of rich people?

What would happen to the rest of the people who couldn't afford any water?

> What would prevent someone from, say, buying up all the water and then not selling any of it, or selling just a little to a handful of rich people?

First, no one has enough money to buy up all of the water. Second, even if they did, it wouldn't make sense not to sell it. Most people like making a profit and having more money. It wouldn't make sense to only sell it to wealthy people, because they don't use enough more water to exhaust supply in most places people inhabit and they'd be forgoing a lot of profit from selling water to normal people. Also governments also often sell water to politically connected business and agriculture groups at a lower rate than they sell to normal people.

It sounds like you see profit as the sole motivation of people's actions.

If someone owned all the water, they would have not just profit-making potential, but they would have a lot of power. In particular, they would have the power of life and death over virtually everyone on the planet.

In a free market utopia, these people could kill as many people as they liked by simply refusing to sell them water, and believers in a completely free market wouldn't lift a finger to stop them -- because, after all they're just freely doing what they like with their own property.

The world is full of people with malicious motives. The prisons are full of them, and there are plenty more outside of prison. Wars, ethnic cleansings, and genocides have killed people by the millions. Some of this was done for profit motives, but some done for other motives.

Don't for a moment think that people like that would hesitate to use the power in their hands to harm those they hated or wanted dead for whatever reasons of their own.

Then there the sociopaths, who would let others die simply because they think giving them water would be worth their bother, or maybe because they were just more interested in other things.

Also, you don't have to buy up all the water in the world to be able to wreak havoc. All the water in a particular water-scarce region might be enough.

Of course, water is just an example and an analogy. The fact is that free market believers have very little to nothing except faith in the free market that would prevent the concentration of wealth and power (in whatever form) and the subsequent abuse of such at the whims of those who wield it.

A world in which 100% of water was owned by a single (or several in a cartel) company would violate rule 2 - no easy barrier to entry.

If the barrier to entry were lower, another company would form to sell cheap water at high volume.

It sounds like your interpretation of rule 2 would require everything being cheap enough for anyone to buy without the price being a burden on them.

I appreciate your post and line of thinking, but am not at all convinced that our natural resources and spaces would end up better off being owned by a private company for financial gain. I don't trust private owners to take the required long-term view on those resources and spaces. And in cases where some benefit is derived (i.e., quicker action against microbeads), I think there are likely accompanying outcomes that are even worse (e.g., decreased access to fresh water or natural parks).

> am not at all convinced that our natural resources and spaces would end up better off being owned by a private company for financial gain

Your faith is weak. If your opinions were subject to a Free Market, we could solve this problem.

Unfortunately it seems the current market for public opinion that is the modern media is too inefficient, we need a high frequency bid/ask system that can implant ideas directly.

Free market can't prevent short cited assholes who don't understand what they're doing.

Smart people with the public good and long view can, however, do better in public policy that sets limits on wreckless actions.

If you want to see what happens when people don't give a shit look at China where Beijing recently had to close schools for several days because of the pollution.

He was joking.

> being owned by a private company for financial gain

This doesn't necessarily follow. Private ownership can be structured as something other than for profit. Non-Profit Land Trusts are big thing in many areas of the US for example. But even industry motivated groups might be a choice. Think a home-owners association of beach property owners (including resort hotel conglomerates) or fishing rights cooperatives. If either had stronger property rights and standing to remedy damages they would be motivated by longer term aims to ensure water quality. You might be right that this could have adverse consequences but I wanted the raise the possibility of options other than BigWaterCo.

> I don't trust private owners to take the required long-term view

If there's anything we know about politicians up for re-election in two years or unable to run for another term it's that they take a long-term approach to problems. /s

> Governments often protects polluters by limiting their liability.

Exactly, exactly, exactly.

As an environmentalist and libertarian, I can't stress enough how government is more often than not a partner in crime when it comes to polluters. One of the big reasons places like China are so polluted is the advance of industry is considered to part of the common good. Therefore, the polluters are given immunity and protected by the political system - giving no recourse for regular citizens.

Here's some more reading on that: https://mises.org/library/libertarian-manifesto-pollution

China's pollution because of coal powerplants left over from industrialization, not special favors to industrial leaders or under-the-table deals. The Chinese government is also the largest green energy producer in the world.

> "giving no recourse for regular citizens"

What forms of recourse would citizens have against polluters without government intervention?

I hope you're not going to suggest 'they can shop elsewhere' as it's been proven time and time again that most citizens don't choose what they buy based on the greater good.

Sue them in court for damages. Folks sue corporations all the time for various reasons and often win. We should be able to sue polluters as well, but governments often protect them for various reasons (like tax base, campaign contributions, etc). Oil spills are a great example of corporations having immunity thanks to government.

The court system is an arm of the government. Are you saying the government should pass regulations and/or set out citizen rights that limit the potential behaviour of corporations?

No, I'm saying corporations lobby and have laws passed that protect them from (as well as from competition), making them immune. Going full-libertarian is not even necessary, just roll back those laws.


I think if you're going to claim that we're not taking one part of a philosophy into account, that part needs to be remotely possible, or you need to show how we can privatize the ocean.

Selling ownership of fishing rights over tracts of the ocean, while it has flaws, would be infinitely better than the free-for-all we have now, where nobody has an incentive to preserve any fish stocks.

The free-for-all exploitation of ocean resources that we have now is from the free market.

Fishing quotas that are enforced by regulatory bodies are what still prevent it from running rampant within the waters of said organizations.

What are you talking about? This is the absolute definition of the Tragedy of the Commons -- when you have a public resource it is in everyone's interest to exploit.

The free market does not just mean "anarchy! take everything!" There's no market here!

You comment is an appeal to extremes fallacy.

If you're resorting to arguing the semantic meaning of Free Market, then it is definitively "an economic system in which prices are determined by unrestricted competition between privately owned businesses."

With natural resources, the free market is certainly an unrestricted first-come first-serve market. Fishing quotas are restricted competition and price influential, which makes it not a free market, despite your attempts to redefine it as such to fit a narrative.

Fishing quotas, seasons and permits have been well established in the developed world for a long time.

Quotas, seasons, and permits aren't really as good. As a fisherman you have no incentive to catch below your quota, since you aren't rewarded for leaving anything on the table. And the quotas are usually too high for political reasons, to avoid losing votes. Either way, they are centrally planned.

A market solution would allow a fisherman to catch below quota and be rewarded in later years by replenished stocks in the waters he controlled.

> And the quotas are usually too high for political reasons, to avoid losing votes.

This is a problem with some of those quotas - they're not being set up right. That's the failure of democracy though, not of central planning per se.

> A market solution would allow a fisherman to catch below quota and be rewarded in later years by replenished stocks in the waters he controlled.

That may work, in a type of business with big inertia (i.e. where you can't go out of business over a single season), if we could parcel water like that. Sadly, fish colonies don't respect arbitrary lines we draw on maps. I don't know if such a market solution is ecologically possible; fish need space, and they often need to travel.

Adding onto that, I can't imagine the logistical nightmare of privatizing the entire ocean including international waters, besides the root of the issue in which it solves nearly no problems.

What if I buy a 1 meter by 1 meter parcel of the ocean and charge bottom of the barrel prices to dump industrial waste in it? What if that square of ocean was 100 meters off shore from a beach in Los Angeles? If you don't want that then we're right back to government regulations.

Iceland does this fairly effectively (use market based solutions).

It's possible to determine negative externalities before a product goes to market, and this 'pre-filter' regulatory framework and barrier to entry is decidedly not 'free market'.

Any solution that does not implement the above is a 'post-filter' approach which can result in permanent, irreversible damage to a system.

Even if we accept your post-filter scenario (which is not rational from a system design perspective), your 'privatize common resources' suggestion relies on the erroneous idea that public property rights are not equivalent to private property rights from a legal perspective.

Either type of right can be reduced to a legal right which gives the rightsholder standing to take legal action. Whether a rightsholder enforces those rights is simply a matter of whether the rightsholder is competently managing those rights, and both public and private entities can be good and bad at this.

In a situation where there are shared resources used by all actors in a system the simplest and logical solution is to have one entity which represents all actors managing those resources.

Your suggestion of transferring ownership / management of shared resources to a narrow subset of beneficiaries seems unavoidably complex, convoluted and illogical to me, having surveyed various arguments online for 'privatize all the things'.

What is the best resource you'd cite online? I've reviewed Walter Block and to be honest he seems like a total lunatic, but that won't necessarily stop me evaluating his arguments.

I just don't want to read a 494 page book on privatizing roads to get the gist of his arguments.

I wasn't actually arguing for water privatization, but rather I was arguing against blaming the free market for the current situation, one where the government owns most bodies of water and allowed this pollution.

I'm no expert on water privatization. I know a few economists have written about it, but it's unrealistic to expect them to come up with a great solution on their own. A good solution would have to evolve over time with decisions by judges etc.

AFAIK most proposals don't have a single entity owning a river, but rather people own rights to a certain amount of water from the river at a certain quality.

I wasn't referring to Walter Block's book on roads, but this one: "Water Capitalism: The Case for Privatizing Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, and Aquifers." I haven't read it.

AFAIK most proposals don't have a single entity owning a river, but rather people own rights to a certain amount of water from the river at a certain quality.

Isn't that pretty similar to how things work now, minus the quality part?

The problem with the government is that it is beholden to market actors.


There is a common idea in economics that explains the problem with what you say: externalities. This is when my behaviour affects you in a way not captured by the market.

For example, if a forest is privatised and cut down the owner might be acting in their best (market) interest, but people living nearby will be negatively affected.

We could try and put a price on these negative effects, but it's very difficult so the better solution is normally to keep things private.

Essentially, you're arguing the solution to one set of externalities is to privatise, but that very privatisation will create a whole host of even worse externalities.

We see with climate change and carbon emissions that ensuring companies pay for their externalities (pollution) is very difficult post the event because there are strong vested interests against this, and the people affected negatively are many but spread out, there is little incentive on an individual level for them to go to the vast effort to fight against the polluter.

You are conflating privatization with free market economics. The two are not mutually inclusive, even though there is surely a large commonality among the respective advocates of each. Free market economics has more to do with the state intervention disrupting competetive markets. You're still correct that it has nothing to do with the government failure described in the link.

If the government "owns" a bunch of lakes and rivers, and someone else is polluting those lakes and rivers, then the government should sue them for damages (cost of cleanup) in addition to ordering them to stop doing it. After all, that's exactly what I would demand if I owned a swimming pool and someone kept dumping trash into it. Simply telling them to stop is not enough. They should pay for the cleanup as well.

So yes, I agree that this is a failure of government. The government should be a lot more zealous in protecting the value of all the natural resources that it claims for itself, perhaps even more so than private landowners.

> Most arguments that the free market can handle these problems start out with the recommendation that the resources involved (rivers, lakes, ocean) should be privatized. Economist Walter Block and others have written about ways this could be done. To fault free market arguments for not working when the waterways aren't privatized is to misrepresent the arguments. Most people aren't arguing that the free market is going to solve problems relating to unowned, unownable, or government owned property without first recognizing private property rights in those resources.

So the arguments are lunacy. Gotcha.

> Most arguments that the free market can handle these problems start out with the recommendation that the resources involved (rivers, lakes, ocean) should be privatized.

Either that, or you need to use the tax system to internalize the externalities. (Think carbon tax or London congestion charge.)

> There's just no good mechanism to stop massive harm to common resources

In economics, this is called "internalizing the externalities". There is a good mechanism that works very well, it's taxation. Instead of taxing productive things people do, tax the polluting things.

Also, the most polluted countries in the world tend to be the ones with centrally planned economies. There's nothing inherently environmentally conscious about central planning.

Taxing is also better than banning, because:

1. there are always uses of something that makes sense, and may contribute only insignificant downsides. Getting a regulatory exception is slow and expensive.

2. they produce revenue for the government, whereas banning is a cost sink

I'm a big free-market guy, but I agree that sometimes there are items which need regulation to prevent massive environmental damage. CFCs are the classic example, since they were eating a hole in the ozone layer.

CFC's, leaded fuel, cigarettes...

A lot of these products feel mildly deceptive. When I buy a face cream I should not have to worry that it may be killing sea creatures. If that unexpected harm in unavoidable they should have to be honest about it and put it on the label.

> When I buy a face cream I should not have to worry that it may be killing sea creatures.

Exactly. But having to put such things on the label is a failure. We pay taxes so that the government can set up agencies ensuring, by means of regulation, that what we can legally buy is environmentally ok. If we have to worry if our face creams are bad for the environment, someone is not doing their job.

Government will never be perfect, in view of that why not regulate and inform the consumer? Allowing companies to do things like change product sizes (hidden by using the same size package) and alter ingredients without informing the consumer means that companies can more easily avoid backlash over their negative actions.


I actually used Native because it was legitimately natural, not the "natural" claim that Unilever/P&G make but still pack it with chemicals that shouldn't be in my body.

Would also like other recommendations for other bathroom products that are truly natural

Baking soda is pretty versatile. I wash my face with it, and I bet one could use it in combo with some other natural minerals or oils to make an effective toothpaste.

I've used baking soda and vinegar to replace shampoo and conditioner for three years now, great cost savings and I've finally learned to shave my face after I rinse the vinegar from my hair.

You don't even need "10 simple ingredients" - just use an alum block!

Well the free-market is a-moral, and as humans we much prefer things to be moral; like not letting homeless people die or not letting banks swindle retirees. In limited situations, concentration of wealth can produce good things. Pure free-markets have never worked because they've never existed, probably because people don't want them to begin with. Obtain your free-market, socialist, communist, etc policy proposals at the government cafeteria. A well balanced meal is the best meal.

I'm pretty libertarian myself so I understand your concern, but only if the "market" actually knew about this. The point I'm trying to make is that this article (posted here and Reddit) is the first time I'd ever heard of this.

I'd say I'm a pretty average person so I don't think the masses had a clue about microbeads.

What I believe and hope is that if the masses did know about this, the market would have reacted and forced action.

I think this is really naïve. The masses knowingly engage in a hell of a lot of wasteful and/or harmful behavior. I know flying uses a lot of hydrocarbons and literally affects global temperature [1], yet I still fly. A minority are much worse than average. I live in SF and I once had a roommate who “couldn't be arsed” to put recyclables in the recycle bin (which was literally next to the rubbish bin), for example. This man is well-traveled and is educated enough to be a private-school teacher.

[1]: http://www.cnn.com/2002/TECH/science/08/07/contrails.climate...

Partly true. There are degrees of awareness.

Most people are not at all aware of microbeads.

Most people know they are supposed to recycle, but are unable to comprehend the negative consequences of not doing it.

It's even harder for people to be aware of their carbon footprints and the consequences of global warming. It never enters the brain of anyone I know that they might be increasing their footprint by flying. And they could tell you by what percent, even approximately, if you asked them.

You know and still fly. I literally feel nausea when I think about what I do when I fly, but I still do it to make my family happy. If anyone is behaving criminally you and I may be among the worst.

I don't think there's cause to feel guilty about flying or other technology. The transition to an advanced industrial society, in a competitive and violent world, requires ruthless forward progress if you want to create and defend your prosperity and freedom. In the long run, improved technology will allow us to stop damaging the environment. The best way to get there is to move full speed ahead. Between nuclear power, electric cars, biofuels, and other renewables, we are almost there.

But flying and transportation is mostly required for a functional society. We can easily live without micro-beads, so it's a bit easier to outright ban them.

The point here is that the government can be smarter than the market. The effort required to educate enough members of the public that microbeads are bad to the point that they become unprofitable is WAY larger than the point required to convince legislators and regulators to outlaw them.

Agreed. I've been using a brand of face soap with little scrubby beads in it for years, and had no idea the things were made of plastic. There's no way that the level of public awareness on this is anywhere near that of something like CFCs.

Guess I'll go find a new brand of face soap.

Why is this downvoted?

Because it's naively childish, and absolves the companies from any wrongdoing because "the market".

This is not what I was trying to convey. Doesn't absolve a company from wrongdoing. If a company is doing something horrific, but no one knows about it, that doesn't make it okay.

I was just trying to rebut the initial comment that this proves the market couldn't solve this.

I don't necessarily have an answer, but I am just saying, if the market isn't even aware, how could they even act?

The masses shouldn't matter. The companies shouldn't be making this crap in the first place, no matter how much the "market" wants it. Hence, market failure.

It's a kind of abstracted version of the tragedy of the commons, which is known specifically as an exception that the free market does not handle well (that is, assuming the pollution is being done to a shared resource rather than a private one.. If it was 'polluting' my septic tank and causing some kind of damage, I'd have a market-style incentive to fix it).

In reality, the market is usually the solution to the tragedy of the commons. In the case of the original, creating a propertization scheme and allowing the market to trade on the property and giving individual owners the responsibility for stewardship gives people incentive to not have their sheep overgraze, and this is better than having a central authority decide how the land should be used, which buts against the knowledge problem, or worse, capture.

The tragedy of the commons is somewhat distinct to regulation of things which directly cause harm (in the extreme example, murder) which we generally don't consider to be part of the 'free market'.

I think you're confusing free markets with artificial markets.

There are many shared resources that are easily exploitable by the free market. A central authority can create artificial markets on that resource to combat the exploitation by the free market, but it's still being heavily regulated which is not a free market characteristic.

One example of this is carbon credits with global warming, another is the Alaskan tradeable fishing quotas. Even following the common example of the Pilgrims, it was the enforcement of property regulations that solved the free-market exploitation of the land.

I think most free marketers would lump (certain) fishing quotas and property rights under "free markets", artificial though they may be.

SOX and NOX markets as well. Carbon markets (as they exist), not so much, but mostly because of completely insane equivalencies baked in, and weird credit schemes.

Not in any sense of the word free market is an enforced artificial market "free".

In fact, free market socialists see property rights on any productive property as skewing markets to favor the owners, which leads to wealth disparity and disproportionate ownership, making it not a free market. We see that today with free-market capitalism and the top 1%, which is why we have social welfare programs in place to redistribute wealth.

Free in free market usually refers to free will, and has little to do with disparity or disproportionality. You can choose to define free market however you wish but I think it's worth noting that you're out of line with how most people use language. Your point that property ownership is enforced is taken, but usually that's within the scope of "free" markets.

Precisely - disproportionate wealth skewing causing market shifts that favor the wealthy.

It's weird how people's brains work. Some people are quite capable of seeing all the bad things governments do, but are like totally blind when looking at the bad things corporations do (many of the free-market people, libertarians etc.). But you also have many people who see perfectly well all the unsavory things private corporations do, but who seem utterly incapable of seeing the negative aspects of governments (socialists, many liberals etc.).

Most free-market people are not incapable of seeing all the unsavory things private corporations do, they just disagree with the solution, contending that the State is often ineffective and regularly makes things worse, by protecting those companies from litigation (a cornerstone of most free-market theories) and preventing property rights that would incentivize people to defend the lakes and sea.

There are also many anarcho-socialist branches, which obviously see plenty of wrong with the State, preferring to do away with it; and even among the statist, many would tell you that the current capitalist states must be done away to bring a real solution.

After all, it was Marx who wrote "The existence of the state is inseparable from the existence of slavery".

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels


The free market is about efficiency. Regulation is about safety.


You can believe whatever you want, but most systems of justice recognize things like proportionality and imminence.

While a nearby coal power plant is likely to harm your health, it's unlikely to kill you, so killing someone over it would be disproportional.

Also, even if it were going to kill you, it's not going to kill you right now, so shooting on sight instead of exhausting other avenues would be avoidable and hence not self-defense or justifiable.

Most people would sympathize with you as a victim of this coal plant, but find you guilty of a crime.

I am happy that small, but fairly substantive (and meaningful) policies like this still manage to get through Congress. And that not everything becomes like that "feds are confiscating our light bulbs" fight because of posturing or corruption.

This is a good regulation/law, and it's actually going to be passed. Glad it still happens sometimes.

Not all the opposition to the light bulbs regulation was corruption and posturing. Some of it was quite reasonable objections from consumers along the lines of "hey, I buy that product, and there's no good substitute at a reasonable price point." I doubt consumers really care that much about microbeads, which makes them a lot easier to ban.

Yeah, CFL bulbs are icky blue flickering garbage, and the LED bulbs I've used (Hue), while otherwise fine, don't support my dimmer correctly. Using the Hue app isn't as easy as walking over to the light switch, and they won't work anyways, unless I rip out the dimmer - I ended up putting the Hue bulbs in the bathroom, which is at least fun for a joke.

Incandescent bulbs are just a better experience for me right now. I don't think there are any such advantages for microbeads.

There are LED bulbs on the market that have great compatibility with all dimmers. I hope that market forces eventually weed out all of the less compatible LED bulbs. At that point, LED bulbs should be truly interchangeable with incandescents for lighting (heat generation, not so much).

I've got a few of the good ones for dimmers, I have however had a problem with them still. They're too efficient, all of the dimmers I have don't got low enough to be able to actually get them dark at the low end. They're all still fairly bright and I've already gone to bulbs rated at half of what I had originally. I think it's just something that's going to take a bit to actually catch up properly.

True, but it depends. I bought a bunch (16?) of top-end Soraa MR16 bulbs at about $30 apiece to replace the halogens in my new house. This is not something everyone can easily afford.

Of course, it turns out that even though they have great dimmer compatibility, they're not 100% compatible with my magnetic dimmers. I have to trim them to 80% of peak; if I try to run them over 80%, the transformer resets and the bulb turns off. Sometimes they strobe for a few seconds when they're running at max brightness, I haven't solved that issue yet.

So unless I want to replace every transformer at ~$60 a pop or more (plus labor costs if not doing it yourself), plus likely a bunch of switches.. It's either $100 per bulb to go LED, or suffer with not-quite-perfect replacements.

Can't say I've had any experience with magnetic dimmers, but the cheaper dimmer compatible LEDs seem work fine on Triac dimmers.

I think often the answer is "you won't know until you try it". Forward-phase, reverse-phase, symmetrical... Low voltage in particular makes things more complicated.

http://www.ledsmagazine.com/articles/print/volume-9/issue-6/... http://www.lutron.com/en-US/Education-Training/Pages/LCE/Dim...

Why can't the LED controller circuits come with a calibration feature that detects (with user help) the minimum level the dimmer will support, and makes that the all-black point?

Partly because the usual minimum level the dimmer will support is off. That is the all black point :)

I know what you mean though. It'd be nice if there was some way to adjust them to change the brightness curve to match what you'd expect. It's one reason I'm considering something like the Phillips Hue bulbs instead of dimmers in the future despite the cost difference.

NOW there are LEDs on the market. I'm a bit of bulb person and have tried all sorts of LEDs. The other problem is that many of the LED bulbs used to look bad if they were not in a shade. Fortunately that situation has also improved.

There are LED bulbs designed to work in dimmer switches. I don't remember the model, but I had one that worked with my dimmer switch in an old 1970s era building I lived in.

My current apartment came with CFLs and a dimmer switch. They work well with the dimmer. It's a pretty new building though, so perhaps the switch was designed with them in mind. It might be worth looking at new switches to see if they help with LEDs.

I installed the dimmer myself after moving into this apartment somewhat recently, so it's a pretty recent model, whatever that means for a light switch.

> and there's no good substitute at a reasonable price point

Not to mention that the CFL bulbs are poisonous and contain mercury. If they break, they're hazardous.

This is a huge point. When I was young, I broke many lightbulbs playing sports in my basement. Regular old incandescent lightbulbs were perfect for this scenario - cheap to replace, not chemically hazardous if broken, and not turned on all that often so the power consumption wasn't a big deal.

Put in some LEDs and you'll never break one again (or have to change it!).

LEDs are great, and I'm happy they're gaining popularity and their price is coming down. But I'd rather have kids break a 20 cent lightbulb instead of a $5 bulb. Still, a lot of LED bulbs now seems to come in plastic casing, so perhaps they would be more durable - good point!

Given GE's political clout, their negative income tax rate, their patents on CFL bulbs, and how quickly LED's displaced CFL's making it obvious there was a better solution on the horizon, I'm guessing the corruption was on the side pushing the CFL bulbs. It certainly wasn't the lobby for commoditized $.10/bulb incandescents.

Well, it wasn't really about light bulb pricing. It was about conservative vs liberal. Light bulbs were just a handy talking point that could be used in stump speeches as a psuedo-argumentum-ad-absurdum of the left. E.g, "And now they're trying to tell you to get rid of your light bulbs? C'mon!"

Honestly, it was because the mandate came when CFLs were still a bit buzzy (or otherwise immature technologically), so it seemed like a quality sacrifice. (no longer of course; we can probably discuss infinitely whether the mandate helped or hindered the tech).

CFLs are still a quality sacrifice if you care about ease of responsible disposal and the quality of the light. It's fascinating to me to see the divide between people who think fluorescent light is fine and people who are repelled by it.

My spouse used to be one of the folks who are repelled by fluorescent light. She also failed to notice when I started quietly replacing incandescents with good-quality CFLs.

She did eventually catch on to me, but fortunately the event convinced her to reconsider her opinion.

Light quality really does depend on the bulb. A lot of bulbs are of a color temperature that's neither warm enough, nor close enough to daylight to have a nice feeling. Personally, I've found that the 5500k daylight bulbs to give a much nicer light than even incandescent, but a lot of that is subjective, and most places don't really have a good place to compare light quality.

I actually could not stand fluorscent lights for many years (I would get massive headaches). I recently moved into a new place, and after I light burnt out I was surprised to see a CFL. No issues with headaches and a nice warm white.

CFLs do release mercury, but it's still less mercury than released by coal plants powering inefficient incandescents. Not that I support the ban. And I think there are other problems with CFLs, like causing cancer and affecting sleep (bluer lights cause the brain to produce less melatonin.)

CFLs also supposedly have a shorter life than incandescents if turned on and off frequently.

Speaking of which, what kind of light bulbs are people buying these days?

My experience with LED bulbs is that it's hard to find anything as bright as halogens. (I live in an apartment where the main light source takes candelabra-base bulbs, sigh.) They also have super dodgy power supplies and if I put too many on the same circuit the RFI causes my carbon monoxide detector to go off!

I also haven't found any with both a daylight color temperature and a decent CRI. I would like to be able to look at my ColorChecker passport and see the same colors as on my calibrated display. As it stands now if I want to see what color something is in my apartment, I take a picture, apply the profile corrections, and look at it on my monitor!

Any suggestions?

Set up a few 72W incandescents that you turn on to preview colors?

I am interested in your general question though. My Cree TW have passable colored light, but are just too damn anemic both temperature and intensity. I'm thinking of augmenting with some higher intensity non-CRI-optimized LEDS.

They're not as bright as halogens for sure, but I'm a huge, huge fan of my Philips Hue lights. I share an apartment and brought the lights from my old one; the biggest downer is that they're not dimmer-friendly, so I've had to replace a couple with standard soft-white LEDs, but I love the color range (yeah, they're crappy at green--I don't need green lights) and the configurability to change the way the environment feels.

> what kind of light bulbs are people buying these days

You can't get incandescents anymore in the UK, and I've just bought some halogens in the same form factor. 25× more expensive upfront, but even nicer light.

Given that LEDs were inevitably rolling out right about now anyway, helping CFL tech seems totally unnecessary and probably corrupt.

Just because it's a handy talking point doesn't mean it's not true. They did, indeed, tell you to get rid of your light bulbs, and back that up with a law.

(Of course, it's more complicated than partisans might prefer, given that the incandescent ban was supported/sponsored by at least some GOP lawmakers and that when they retook Congress the GOP's efforts to repeal the ban were pro forma at best. But it's still completely true that pushy nanny-state types, of either party, told people to get rid of their light bulbs.)

If they had only told us, that would have been one thing. I could then ignore them and still have useful lighting.

Of course they had to go and ban the only useful light source available.

Yeah I got an LED, because I wanted to test it because they are supposed to be the future. Turns out it is really huge (much bigger than the one I replaced) so it will only fit in some of my lamps and it is extremely yellow. Still that beats the one I tried before, which wasn't able to light anything after the sun had gone down and had such a white color it made everything look like a morgue.

In theory I am supposed to save money and improve the environment, but I have wasted a lot of money buying not good enough bulbs that were far more expensive than real bulbs and I got a car so that ruins the environmental savings times twenty.

If instead of being nanny staters they had put a tax on CO2, that might incentives me to drive slightly less, which would save much more CO2.

Alameda municiple power was participating in the "community night out" events (where you are supposed to have a BBQ on the sidewalk and the police and FD come by and reach out to the community) -- and they were handing out LED bulbs, with the goal to replace all bulbs with LED bulbs by some year.

I love the LED bulbs because I have my workshop, an area in my garage, my laundry room and my walk-in closet all with LED bulbs as I never turn them off.

I am just curious what kind of graft/riders/pork may be attached to a bill that is clearly a no-brainer that this is a good idea to pass.

This was an obviously bad idea from the start.

One of the tenants of a reasonably modern mechanical engineering curriculum is at least passing coverage of 'product lifecycle', which basically means thinking about disposal/recycling during design. What did the CPG companies think was going to happen when they dumped a billion tiny little pieces of plastic directly down the drain?

> What did the CPG companies think was going to happen when they dumped a billion tiny little pieces of plastic directly down the drain?

They clearly thought it wasn't their problem.

Pharmaceuticals are another such issue. Maybe we ought to be designing for inactive metabolites. But getting drugs that work well and are safe enough is a huge challenge already, I admit. Externalities are a bitch.

A friend of mine works in a Pfizer lab and tells me how the technicians are constantly pouring drugs down the normal drains because a lot of rooms don't have the special drains for chemicals.

You'd think it'd be mandatory for every lab to have those special sinks. It may even be, but she tells me everybody is afraid of speaking up about that and various other safety protocols because they don't want it to affect their employment. Even if they did say something, it'll probably get stopped at management and nothing will every come of it.

I was thinking post-consumer. But your comment reminds me of horror stories from India. Regulation there is even less well enforced, based on what I've read.

It's really not difficult to chuck waste drugs into some bleach... more likely, nobody cares.

What does the bleach do?

And she's a biomedical engineer and works with a lot of dangerous viruses both from humans and animals. So it's not just drugs that are getting put into the water sadly.

Bleach is standard for infectious stuff. Some drugs, maybe even most, would be destroyed. But some for sure would not. Maybe chromic acid cleaning solution?

I asked her today and she said they don't have any procedures if the like.

It's a shame that a company like that takes no responsibility and it's horrible that there's nothing in place to make sure they do.

As much debate as I've heard recently over what qualifies a person as an "engineer", one of the key features has always been a very strict adherence to a code of ethics.

I'm starting to wonder if the title is even worth arguing over anymore.

In a highly competitive job market, it's hard to have ethics that result in your unemployment. And any actual "whistleblowing" that costs businesses money can be career-destroying, life-ruining, or (in the case of Snowden) force you to flee the country.

Look at how nobody's broken omerta on what actually happened in VW.

The low-level employees can act ethically and still design unethical solutions:

   - development cooks up 20 different solutions, some of them containing plastic microbeads
   - plastic microbeads work better than no additive
   - plastic microbeads have the same performance as <alternative>
   - report concludes: "we clearly should pick <alternative>, due to similar performance and lower pollution"
   - management massages report: "we clearly should pick plasic microbeads since it performs equal to <alternative> and is cheaper"

Which code of ethics? You're saying it as if there is and always been an objective code which says what is good and what is bad, and the choice is only to adhere to it or to be evil. I think in fact it's more like there are a tons of claims around, some true, some not, some important, some pretentious bullshit, some outright fraudulent - and one would have to navigate all this mess which also earning a living and maybe also working on stuff that is interesting. If you're unlucky, post-factum it may turn out the stuff you've worked on has horrible consequences - but I wouldn't say it is unethical unless you had full knowledge of what is going to happen. Which most people just don't. E.g. read about Thomas Midgley, Jr., who worked on both CFCs and TEL. Both proved horrible in the hindsight.

Would the people designing these products even be engineers?

Unfortunately I don't think there are that many cases where engineers even have much independent clout, enough to force the company to "do it right" vs. just make a note of problems. This kind of thing is taught in engineering curricula, but the ability of engineers to stand up to the business and marketing sides of things is pretty limited, outside of regulated industries where there is some specific legal framework requiring the company to do a proper engineering review and follow its recommendations. Then it becomes easier to say that your legal duty requires you to make a particular recommendation, and harder for the company to bypass it (though still not impossible). But if it's legal and just a bad idea? Hard fight to win. It doesn't help that engineers tend to be fairly weakly organized, without a particularly strong professional organization or union or other entity willing to put more muscle into the idea of professional ethics when it comes to actually saying "no" to management.

> What did the CPG companies think was going to happen when they dumped a billion tiny little pieces of plastic directly down the drain?

I'm willing to put part of the blame on the cities for this one. In many cities, wastewater treatment has not been given the necessary investments to properly filter the water before piping it into the lake. Plastic's not the only problem, unfortunately.


No wastewater treatment process is going to filter out microbeads - they're between 0.01mm and 1mm in size. You'd have to change the filters every five minutes.

Properly treated wastewater is just that - treated, to make it safe (i.e. fewer pathogens). It's still not something you'd want to drink out of a tap.

> No wastewater treatment process is going to filter out microbeads - they're between 0.01mm and 1mm in size. You'd have to change the filters every five minutes.

Rather than filter, why not settle them out?

Is that possible? They're much lighter than water and super tiny. Is there even a way to know that you got all of them? You'd almost have to run the affected water through a still.

If they were much lighter than water it wouldn't be as much of a problem for water filtration - they'd float, and settle at the top rapidly. It would remain a large problem as far as untreated discharges though.

Stokes' Law gives settling times (or terminal velocities) for small spherical particles. Terminal velocity is proportional to (difference between particle density & water) * (particle diameter ^2)

A 0.1mm microbead at 0.9 specific gravity will float to the top at 0.54mm/s, or at 1.1 specific gravity will drop to the bottom at the same speed. A 1mm microbead will move 100x as fast. A 0.01mm microbead will move 1% as fast.

I don't see the technical issue with trying to incorporate them into settling plant workflows, only the sociological issue that we routinely underfund municipal works. It's much cheaper to ban the selling of microbeads than to deal with them via settling in a universe where engineers run everything and the environment is sacrosanct, but even so, we don't live in that universe: Raw sewage discharges are common, and such things are not seen as important so long as we're not getting cholera outbreaks. Municipal works don't have the power, political or regulative, to levy new taxes on specific consumer-good industrial practices to pay for any expansion.

Food for thought: "there are 330,000 plastic beads in a single bottle of Clean & Clear facial scrub"

Edit: From a student study of microbeads, it looks like sizes have a mean of 260um with a standard deviation of 100um. http://nature.berkeley.edu/classes/es196/projects/2013final/...

I think that is one of the reasons they are so bad for the environment, they don't settle.

Instead they end up suspended in the oceans of the world and fish eat them and slowly die.

Most of the problem with untreated sewage in the Great Lakes is burst capacity - when you get a rainstorm, the sewers overflow and dump raw sewage into the lakes.

Having to store an entire storm's worth of water long enough for 10 micrometer beads to filter out simply isn't feasible.

If you build separate sanitary and storm sewers, then you don't have that problem.

About a decade ago, developing a proposal for solving that problem in Kingston, ON was part of my first-year engineering coursework. Obviously, I was not an expert, but after some research, my conclusion was that building storage was the cheapest solution in the short term. Opportunistically separating the sewers made the most sense over the long term.

Tenant is the opposite of landlord. The word you're looking for is "tenet".

Unless it's a Time Lord - then it's 'Tennant.'

Forget about these beads winding up in streams and our ecosystem, which is bad enough. Dentists warn that toothpastes with these beads can embed them in your gums leading to infections and tooth decay.

No idea how this became legal. Our regulatory body should be a whole lot more about transparency, so questionable stuff like this can be easily weighed by the consumer.


Because things are made illegal, not the other way around.

Depends, medical drugs are default illegal.

Though the crap that is ok to put in the food supply is ridiculous. http://sagewater.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Renew-Downlo...


I always assumed toothpaste was regulated by the FDA.

I've used some of the products containing microbeads and was flabbergasted when I learned that they were plastic. It was my dentist who asked a pointed question during a routine cleaning:

"Do you use Crest toothpaste?"

I answered yes and was informed that some of the plastic beads from the tooth paste had gotten stuck in my gums. The dentist went on to explain that she'd sent in many complaints to the company but they still didn't drop that ingredient.

What weighs on my mind now is why a toothpaste company continued to use microbeads after learning of the externality. Did they have too much inventory to sell. Were they afraid that discontinuing that exact product would upset customers? Did they think that owning up to the mistake and correcting it would draw too much attention to the mistake?

Personally, my respect lies with any entity that can own up to and correct its mistakes before it is forced to do so.

Easy solution, just switch to natural biodegradable abrasives like crushed walnut shells. These are already used a lot in the cosmetics industry.

That sounds slightly more expensive than plastic.

Why would walnut shells be expensive?

Plastic is way cheaper than walnuts. Look at the price per pound of raw materials, not to mention only specific places in the world can grow walnuts versus plastic which can be produced anywhere.

maybe lower shelf-life if soaked in water?

i use a kiehl's product with ground apricot pits. feels great on my skin. very gritty and satisfying without harming anything. living in the city, my face is coated all sorts of pollutants, oil, and dry flakey skin after a full day in winter. getting rid of all that shit in the evening shower feels amazing.

Do you know what product it is specifically? I'm looking for a new face cleaner after finding out the one I loved does have microbeads. Thanks.


it's not cheap but a little bit goes a long way. i use pea-sized amount.

Thanks! Just ordered it :)

Shells & pits have sharper edges though. Jojoba beads are a better replacement for microbeads from a performance standpoint because their rounded edges provide a gentler exfoliation. They are, however, considerably more expensive than ground shells or pits because they aren't an agricultural byproduct.

Interresting. Would that affect people allergic to them (there would be alternatives so it's probably not a big deal). I'm just pointing out another issue that someone else might bring later (whether it really is harmful I don't know).

People can be allergic to soap ingredients already. The packaging will list it.

Yes, first thing I thought of was Lava soap, which uses ground pumice stone.

Just curious -- what is the main problem with these (as opposed to say sand and other natural objects of similar size) -- do they float in water instead of settling down, or look like food, or something else?

They're super small and don't get caught up in wastewater treatment filters so then they enter into local watersheds. There, they get ingested by the critters at the bottom of the foodchain and enter into the foodchain that way.

So what is the difference with, say, very fine sand/dust? Density? E.g. do the same critters ingest fine sand - and if so, why plastic is more harmful? Also, if these microbeads are chemically inert, what is the harm from them entering the foodchain - as opposed, again, to e.g. dust?

Sand and dust tends to settle, where as these microbeads form a "soup".

The beads absorb some chemicals, and so they're not inert by the time they're eaten.

Do they decay in UV light? I know most plastic will tend to break down over time if left outside.

It sounds like they can cause issues for marine life: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_particle_water_polluti... such as just physically choking them or leaching chemicals.

It may be a good idea to not run the experiment of "what happens when we coat marine life with a lot of plastic beads" because it could be really expensive to clean up if we find out it's bad later on.

Wait, it was said those are super-small - so small, filters can't filter them out. So how can it then be that animals are choking on them? Are they congealing somehow? The article you quoted shows some pretty large beads. I see how they could harm a small creature, but for beads this large it should be pretty easy to filter them out. Are those the same beads or different beads?

Animals come in all sizes, and the big ones depend on the little ones. And so, ad infinitum.

This is true, but what I am trying to understand is why sand and dust does not hurt these animals but microbead particles of the same size do.

Two factors.

1) Density. Sand and dust settle out. Plastic has a lower or similar density to water, so will collect at the surface or float in the water column.

2) Structure and surface properties. Plastic is hydrophobic and usually not completely solid--it is more of a sponge at the microscopic level. This means it can adsorb and absorb oils, which in turn can absorb biologically active chemicals from the water, effectively concentrating them.

This basically means that small organisms at the lower end of the food chain can end up ingesting these, including all the nasty stuff, and these cause problems up the food chain, either by killing or reducing the turnover of the lower organisms, starving the higher organisms of nutrition, and also by concentrating the toxins up the food chain.

I wonder if density issue can be fixed - i.e. if it's possible to make microbeads with density/specific gravity that would make them sink. AFAIK, there are plastics/compounds like that. Not sure how hard is to fix the absorption issue.

I'd argue that animals will adapt

The same animals adapted to oil spills.

There haven't been enough oil spills.

From Wikipedia:

> Nurdles that escape from the plastic production process into waterways or oceans have become a significant source of ocean and beach plastic pollution. Marine life is severely threatened by these small pieces of plastic: the creatures that make up the base of the marine food chain, such as krill, are prematurely dying by choking on nurdles.[7] Nurdles have frequently been found in the digestive tracts of various marine creatures, causing physiological damage by leaching plasticizers such as phthalates. Nurdles can carry two types of micropollutants in the marine environment: native plastic additives and hydrophobic pollutants absorbed from seawater. For example, concentrations of PCBs and DDE on nurdles collected from Japanese coastal waters were found to be up to 1 million times higher than the levels detected in surrounding seawater.[8]


There are a number of natural "beads" regularly used in alternative products. Likely a higher pricepoint, but clearly a better idea. e.g. http://www.kiehls.com/mens-oil-eliminator-deep-cleansing-exf...

Microbeads were banned in Minnesota several months ago.


What about pumice soaps, don't these particles float as well? Probably too abrasive to have widespread use outside of some hand soaps.

They aren't a polymer. Nature is well-adapted to having small bits of rock in the watershed.

Technically speaking, I think pumice is a type of glass, and silicates are actually inorganic polymers (...-Si-O-Si-O-Si-O-...).

The problem is that microbeads are new to the ecosystem, and no species larger than a bacterium has yet adapted to suddenly having a lot of anthropogenic plastic particulates around.


How people aren't able to be put in jail for this kind of idiotic stuff in the first place I'll never understand. Our priorities in our legal system don't really accommodate the destruction that can be caused by normal everyday products at scale.

Holy batman, I didnt know (certain type of) microbeads are made of plastic. Everybody knows plastic in general is non-biodegradable etc etc, and they're making it in small particles? Who in their right mind?

What I don't understand is, they get the profit, everyone else clean their shit. And they can get away with this? Sigh

Not only are these environmentally harmful, but they get stuck in your ear after you shower with them and then your doctor has to refer you to an ENT costing time and money to vacuum them out. Not to mention the psychological stress when your doctor tells you you have a blue growth in your ear and they don't know what it is. Or so I've heard this sort of thing can happen...

Why 2017? That seems very far off.

Anyone who cares about science rather than religion want to link about issues with microbeads here?

Can't say I've ever seen any, other than the normal anti-science, stuff is 'scary' point.

That alone annoys me with this conversation, how about starting with a real reason this is bad rather than we can track it.

What's wrong with pumice soap that we need plastic?

Great, but now what do I do when my hands are covered in tree sap and normal soap isn't working? I guess we'll just have to settle for a more environmentally friendly alternative like acetone.

There's plenty of less-environmentally-problematic abrasives to use. Nothing is wrong with something like pumice. A lot of them are even plant-based, like coconut or walnut shells.

We were able to clean ourselves well before microbeads were added to soaps and we'll continue to be able to clean ourselves afterwards.

>We were able to survive infections well before we had penicillin and we will continue to survive infections well afterwards.

I am not saying that you are wrong, just that your argument can apply to literally every inventions humans have made, ie it proves too much.

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not. Acetone is more environmentally friendly because unlike microbeads it is broken down into harmless substances by microbes and sunlight. The drawback is it's more damaging to your skin.

> Acetone is more environmentally friendly

But but chemicals!

But but, more damaging to your skin. And an effective delivery system for anything else that might be carcinogenic.

Have you tried table salt? It's cheap, non-toxic, a very good astringent and washes away with enough water. Use it all the time when my hands are covered in grease.

Do microbeads show up in products like Gojo Fast Orange and other degreasers — that is, things a mechanic would use to clean gunk off his hands?

They use pumice which is natural and probably something that will help replace microbeads in other products.

Products like Gojo, traditionaly at least, used crushed pumice or sometimes walnut shells.

Apricot pits are my favorite.

There are lots of natural microbead alternatives, such as, wait for it... sand.

I've used borax when working with very greasy things. It has a good abrasive feel to it.

I bet quartz dust shows superior cleansing performance to plastic beads.

Fast orange?

I'm sorry the government is taking away your microbeads and oppressing you.

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