A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What are Microbeads?

From Plastic Free Seas

What are Microbeads?

Micro-Beads are minute plastic beads that are manufactured and used in consumer products such as toothpaste and cosmetic scrubs to produce a “feel good factor”. After use, they are immediately discharged into waste water systems.

How long have Microbeads been around?

Microbeads were patented in the 1970’s, but have only been used as a disposable entity in consumer products recently.

What problems do Microbeads pose?

Micro-plastics in the marine environment is still a new science, but they are known to accumulate toxic contaminants and are ingested by a wide range of organisms.

A major concern with microbeads is that because of their small size, they have a large surface area by volume, so as a consequence of their use, huge numbers of readymade, highly efficient toxic accumulators are being intentionally released into the environment.

Fendell & Sewell said in their paper titled "Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: Microplastics in facial cleansers" that:

"Plastics pollution in the ocean is an area of growing concern, with research efforts focusing on both the macroplastic (>5mm) and microplastic (<5mm) fractions. In the 1990s it was recognized that a minor source of microplastic pollution was derived from liquid hand-cleansers that would have been rarely used by the average consumer. In 2009, however, the average consumer is likely to be using microplastic-containing products on a daily basis, as the majority of facial cleansers now contain polyethylene microplastics which are not captured by wastewater plants and will enter the oceans. Four microplastic-containing facial cleansers available in New Zealand supermarkets were used to quantify the size of the polythelene fragments. Three-quarters of the brands had a modal size of <100 microns and could be immediately ingested by planktonic organisms at the base of the food chain. Over time the microplastics will be subject to UV-degradation and absorb hydrophobic materials such as PCBs, making them smaller and more toxic in the long-term. Marine scientists need to educate the public to the dangers of using products that pose an immediate and long-term threat to the health of the oceans and the food we eat."

Fendell & Sewell also add "that as nanotechnology becomes more prevalent in the manufacture of commercial cosmetics and cleansers, the second and third order environmental impacts of the material used at that scale, are unclear. Dr. Sewell suggests that further investigation into the impact of micro- and nano-scale plastics on microscopic marine life, such as plankton, is warranted."

Click here for more details.

What action has been taken elsewhere to tackle the problem of microbeads?

In 2012, UNILEVER announced it would phase out the use of microbeads in all of its products by 2015. See the following announcement on Unilever's website:

In 2013, The Body Shop, Johnson & Johnson, Beiersdorf, L'Oreal and just recently Proctor & Gamble have also agreed to start the phase out of plastic microbeads but no end dates have been set.

Johnson & Johnson's announcement on their website

Which products are known to contain microbeads?

This is not an exhaustive list.  Please check the ingredients list of all body and face scrubs for Polyethylene.
But some known brands are listed below ...

Nivea (Beiersdorf)                              Neutrogena (Johnson & Johnson)
Olay (Proctor & Gamble)                     Biore (Kao)
Kiehl's (L'Oreal)                                  Lancome (L'Oreal)
L'Oreal                                              Shiseido
Clinique                                             Boots
Estee Lauder                                     Superdrug
Garnier (L'Oreal)                                 Gatsby (Mandom Corp)
The Body Shop (L'Oreal)                     Darlie (Toothpaste)
Neutrogena (Johnson & Johnson)


What can you do?

Get on to the company Facebook pages and tell them what you think of their ingredients.  Tell the companies you won't be buying their products until they change their ingredients to a biodegradable alternative. Ask them when their products will be safe to use - especially those companies that have yet to commit to a date.  Be creative, have fun.  Alert the world to these products.  Most people do not know that many scrubs use plastic beads.

Use the contact form on company websites to ask them these questions too.  Let Plastic Free Seas know who you have spoken to with our contact form too!

Sample letters and contact details for direct emailing to companies will be added here shortly.

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