An assortment of microplastics
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

One year after the United States banned microbeads - the small plastic particles you might see in a face scrub - scientists are now turning their attention to microfibers - hairlike plastics in our clothing.

Both types of plastic have been cluttering up oceans, rivers, and lakes. But clothing and personal care products aren’t the biggest sources of microplastics. Scientists are having a hard time finding out what these microplastics are and where they come from. 

Rebecca Thiele/WMUK

If you’re one of those people who stopped using microbeads because you care about the environment, we have some bad news. Microbeads are those tiny plastic bits in your toothpaste and facewash that pollute oceans, rivers, and lakes.

Scientists say there’s a new microplastic to blame—and it’s lurking in your laundry hamper. Plastics in our clothes are sending billions of microfibers into our waterways—making fish and other aquatic life sick. 

A sample taken near a Cleveland wastewater treatment plant on Lake Erie. Duhaime's team has to sift through these tiny particles to find the microplastics.
courtesy of Melissa Duhaime

It turns out your exfoliating scrub could be polluting Lake Michigan. In late February, Michigan legislators introduced a Senate bill that would ban microbeads—those tiny plastic particles found in face wash, toothpaste, and other personal care products.