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
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