Ban the bead

Mi­crobeads – tiny beads with a macro ef­fect, work­ing its way up to you in the food chain. Be­cause mi­crobeads are far cheaper than nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents, their use helps the com­pany’s bot­tom line. How­ever, nat­u­ral al­ter­na­tives are avail­able and are used by r

Living Now - - Contents - by Martin Oliver

Mi­crobeads – tiny beads with a macro ef­fect, work­ing its way up to you in the food chain. Be­cause mi­crobeads are far cheaper than nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents, their use helps the com­pany’s bot­tom line. How­ever, nat­u­ral al­ter­na­tives are avail­able and are used by re­spon­si­ble com­pa­nies.

PLAS­TICS ARE ONE of the great en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues of the 21st cen­tury, and the world is rapidly wak­ing up to the ex­tent of the dam­age they can cause. Three oceans each con­tain a garbage patch where plas­tics are slowly de­grad­ing into a chem­i­cal soup. Plas­tic is found strewn on beaches in South East Asia and In­done­sia, and some marine an­i­mals are starv­ing to death af­ter in­gest­ing plas­tic pieces.

More re­cently, another plas­tic headache has ar­rived on the scene. Mi­crobeads are tiny plas­tic par­ti­cles less than one mil­lime­tre in di­am­e­ter that are added to hun­dreds of per­sonal care prod­ucts, of­ten as ex­fo­li­at­ing agents. They are found in face soap, sham­poo, body wash, tooth­paste, makeup, lip gloss, and nail pol­ish. In Aus­tralia they are also used in hair ex­ten­sions.

In some cases, con­cen­tra­tions are very high. Dutch re­searchers found L’oréal’s Ex­o­fonic scrub to be 10.6 per cent mi­crobeads. Other in­ves­ti­ga­tions by the ocean plas­tic ac­tivist group 5Gyres found roughly 360,000 mi­crobeads in Neu­tro­gena’s Deep Clean face wash.

As these par­ti­cles are too small to be fil­tered by waste wa­ter plants, they end up in our wa­ter­ways and oceans, gen­er­ally close to civil­i­sa­tion, although some have even been de­tected in Arc­tic ice. Mi­crobead pol­lu­tion of the Great Lakes in North Amer­ica is a par­tic­u­lar con­cern, es­pe­cially Lake On­tario where re­searchers have found con­cen­tra­tions of up to 1.1 mil­lion par­ti­cles per square kilo­me­tre.

In wa­ter, mi­crobeads func­tion like tiny mag­nets, at­tract­ing and ab­sorb­ing per­sis­tent or­ganic pol­lu­tants such as PCBS and DDT. In­stead of de­grad­ing, these beads break down into smaller pieces. Even those that are re­garded as biodegrad­able are no bet­ter, as biodegrad­able plas­tics re­quire a higher tem­per­a­ture to break down than is found in bod­ies of wa­ter.

Mi­crobeads are about the same size as fish eggs, and are eaten by worms and small fish, po­ten­tially block­ing their di­ges­tive tracts. From there, they find their way up the food chain, risk­ing a toxic ac­cu­mu­la­tion in seafoods con­sumed by hu­mans.

Other in­take by the body is through a far more di­rect route; den­tal hy­gien­ists have started to ob­serve mi­crobeads trapped be­tween teeth and gums. Proc­ter & Gam­ble has con­firmed that

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