You’ve probably already seen these microbeads; they’re everywhere! Mainly used in the most common cosmetic products (including toothpaste, deodorant, exfoliants and cleansers) they can also make up to 10% of the content of cleaning products, textiles, special paper, and paints, and many others. However, do they really have a purpose? Their softening or exfoliating effects have not necessarily been proven; it’s more a question of their aesthetic aspect. It’s true; seeing glitter and beads in products makes the consumer want to buy them, something that manufacturers have understood, to the detriment of the environment.
Dangers: non-biodegradable microbeads
These polyethylene (or polypropylene) microbeads, made of the same materials as plastic bags, have a diameter of between 0.1 and 0.2 mm and are therefore impossible to filter during the treatment of waste water. As a result, they end up in the oceans where they are ingested by marine animals or absorbed by sponges, molluscs or crustaceans. What’s more, microplastics are not biodegradable and therefore they remain in the water and the sediments for a long time. Thus, the introduction of protection for 30% of the oceans from now until 2030 would allow for the reduction of these microbeads.
In fact, according to a study published in the journal “Environmental science and technology”, more than 8000 billion microbeads end up in the aquatic environment every day! This figure can be explained by the fact one single tube of these cosmetics can contain thousands of them. Therefore, according to the NGO “5 Gyres” who act to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans, “microplastics make up 92.4% of plastic pollution in the oceans”.
Towards the disappearance of microbeads?
The pressure of many NGO’s including “Surfrider, Plastic Soup Foundation, Greenpeace, Marine Conservation Society and Seas at Risk” has forced many big businesses to take action. In December 2012, Unilever announced that it would stop using plastic microbeads in its products between then and 2015. The same for Bodyshop, followed by Beiersdorf, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson and Target. L’Oreal announced that from the end of 2017 their products would no longer contain any, by calling into question the harm caused by microbeads to the environment. On 20 July 2016, the law on biodiversity was passed, which outlined the ban on microbeads contained in different hygiene and beauty, like those products listed above, from 1st January 2018.
Manufacturers are therefore encouraged to replace them with natural and biodegradable particles, which won’t affect animal life, for example mineral powders, certain types of sugar or even fruit kernels.
What can you do?
You can also take action by avoiding buying products which contain these microbeads, by looking at the ingredients list for example: “polyethylene” indicates that the product most probably contains microbead. Or, you could go on the app “Beat the micro bead”, developed by Surfrider, specially dedicated to consumers in order to check the content of plastic microbeads in a product.