Did you realise that washing your face, scrubbing your body and, more surprising to me, brushing your teeth could be an act of pollution? Microplastics, also called microbeads, are tiny particles of plastic which have been added to possibly thousands of personal care products sold around the world. They are hardly visible to the naked eye and flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system.
— Imogen Napper (@Imogennapper) January 19, 2015
Why are microbeads an issue?
- Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out microbeads so these plastic beads end up in the sea.
- They contribute to the Plastic Soup swirling around the world’s oceans.
- Sea creatures and fish eat microbeads (which absorb other pollutants) and then these microbeads are passed along the marine food chain. Fish eat the plastic (which absorb other pollutants) and we then eat the fish and in turn can absorb those toxins
- As humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, we eat the fish including the microbeads and absorb the toxins.
- Microbeads are not biodegradable and are impossible to remove from the marine environment.
Over the years, microbeads have replaced traditional, biodegradable alternatives such as ground nut shells, and salt crystals.
On Winterwatch in January 2015, they reported that analysis of otter spraint found in a relatively remote location was found to contain microbeads, which shows how easily these plastic particles can travel through our water systems and up the food chain of our wildlife.
What can you do?
We need to stop this polluting our wonderful marine environment with these plastic balls. The simple solution is to only buy products which are free from microbeads and this will also show manufacturers that we don't want microplastics in our products.
Download the Beat the Microbead app
Check which products contain microbeads using the free Beat the Microbead app. Use the app to scan the product barcode with your smartphone. The app will read the bar code, and through simple colour coding will indicate whether microbeads are present in the product:
- Red: This product contains microbeads;
- Orange: This product still contains microbeads, but the manufacturer has indicated it will replace in a given timeframe or adapt the product accordingly;
- Green: This product is free from plastic microbeads.
Avoid plastic ingredients
Ingredients you need to avoid include:
- Polyethylene / Polythene (PE)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
- Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
Pledge to go microbead-free
Sign up to the Marine Conservation Society's campaign to go microbead-free and encourage your friends and family to join the campaign too.
The Good Scrub Guide
Download the free Good Scrub Guide from the Flora and Fauna International website. This lists some of the companies whose facial scrub products don't contain microbeads and there is a UK version plus one for Australia. As I expected many natural and organic skincare brands are listed as being plastic-free including:
- Balance Me Cleanse & Smooth Face Balm (available from Love Lula and Beauty Expert)
- Burt's Bees (available from Lucy Rose)
- Dr. Hauschka Cleansing Cream (available from Big Green Smile)
- Lavera (available from Lucy Rose)
- Neal's Yard Remedies – range of facial scrubs and polishes
- Organic Surge Skin Perfecting Face Polish
- REN – Micro Polish Cleanser
Follow @GoodScrub on Twitter
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- Film: It’s a plastic world – what is it doing to us and the planet?
- Ocean pollution – are we eating our own rubbish?
- Plastic beach on Midway Atoll
- Lush want your plastic bottle tops
- Plastic bags and their environmental impact
- Ditching microbeads: the search for sustainable skincare
- It’s a plastic world
- Great Pacific Garbage Patch (National Geographic)
- Plastic Soup Foundation
- Plastic Oceans
- The Ocean Cleanup
- Ocean Care