Chemicals and micro plastics
There are many ingredients in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and household products that harm the environment. The main issue lies in harmful substances being spread to our drinking water and seawaters causing harm both to humans and aquatic life.
This happens when we are rinsing off makeup, shampooing hair, or washing clothes. All the substances from the products that we rinse off or use in the washing machine are released into the waterways.
While wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) do their best to stop unwanted and harmful substances from entering watercourses, in many cases both chemicals and microplastics slip right through. Even in the most sophisticated WWTP, it is unfortunately inevitable that harmful substances are released into oceans, streams, and lakes.
The European Chemical Agency (ECHA) has classified numerous substances as “harming aquatic life with long lasting effects”.
Yet we are still able to find those and many other substances that harm the environment in the products that go into the waterways daily.
Some substances negatively affect coral reefs and cause feminization of male fishes. Others cosmetic ingredients are persistent and does not break down in nature, they bioaccumulate and cause eco-toxicity. And if the plastic pollution trend continues, the amount of plastic in our oceans, partly caused by our cosmetic products, is going to outnumber fishes in the year 2050.
The solution for hindering that the products we use become environmental hazards, is simply to avoid harmful substances and products that contain them. Our normal mode of operation causes a great risk to our ecosystems and ourselves.
The chemicals and microplastics that we release when we shower, color our hair, or clean the toilet, are in many cases not disappearing. The harmful substances that are continuously released into the environment eventually end up on our plates when we eat seafood or fish. Or they end up in groundwater or seas that eventually become our drinking water.
“Every other substance in hair care products are environmentally hazardous, and in many cases, we do not know if they are biodegradable or not.
There is not enough research on exactly which chemicals can be broken down and we also know too little about how they affect the environment when they are released.
Above all, I’m worried about hair dyeing products that contain huge amounts of chemicals. We know too little about what happens to the environment when they are released into the water.”
– Environmental chemist Cajsa Wahlberg from Stockholm Water and Wastewater
Widespread negative effects
Some chemicals have long-term effects on aquatic life by reducing plankton, changing fish growth and behavior, causing genetic mutations and even death among aquatic species. Even the smallest changes could cause large negative effects as species depend on each other and certain habitats for survival.
But what is happening in our oceans, lakes, and streams has a wider effect on the environment. What happens in the oceans, does not stay in the ocean. Water is essential to everyone on this earth. All life on earth needs water to survive.
Our life-supporting water moves in cycles; it vaporizes, turns into clouds, and returns to earth as rain. With the cycles of the water, harmful chemicals could also be spread. The more chemicals we let out in waterways and put in circulation, the higher the risk of unintentionally poison wildlife, agricultural soil, and public water supply.
The spreading of environmental hazards is not exclusive to cosmetic usage. Also impregnated shoes or water resistant clothing could unintentionally be rubbing off chemicals, spreading them in nature and where wildlife eats.
Industrial release of chemicals in streams and lakes in Europe has made many fishes contain so much pollution that it is strongly not recommended for pregnant women to eat them.
Furthermore, it is strongly not recomended for any woman of childbearing age to eat fishes from lakes in Europe.
The reason is that many of these substances, including chemical and heavy metals, accumulate in the human body and could harm a future fetus or breastfeeding baby.