You have probably already seen those microbeads since they’re everywhere! They are mostly used in everyday cosmetic products: toothpastes, deodorants, facial scrubs, cleansing products… we can also find them in cleaning products (up to 10% of the content!), textiles, special papers, paints, and many others. However, are they really useful? Their softening or scrubbing effect has not yet been really proved, it would rather be a question of their aesthetic appearance… Because it’s true, seeing glitter and tiny beads in our products makes us feel like buying them, something the industrialists understood very well, despite the fact that they’re dangerous for the environment…
The dangers : microbeads are not biodegradable
Those microbeads are made of polyethylene (or polypropylene), just like plastic bags. They measure between 0.1 mm and 0.02 mm and we are thus unable to filter them during the treatment of waste water. Therefore microbeads end up in the ocean where they are ingested by aquatic organisms or absorbed by some filter feeders such as sponges, molluscs or crustaceans. Moreover, they are apparently not biodegradable and so would stay a very long time in the water and in the sediments. Thus, setting up a protection of 30% of the oceans by 2030 would be a step towards the decrease of microbead proliferation (for more information, see article “Nature World Congress: Vote for the protection of the oceans”). Indeed, according to a survey published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, more than 8,000 billion microbeads would make their way into the aquatic environment everyday! Those figures can be explained by the fact that thousands of microbeads can be found in one tube of cosmetic products. Thus, “microplastics account for 92.4% of the plastic pollution observed in oceans” according to NGO 5 gyres, which acts in favour of the decrease of plastic pollution in the oceans.
Towards an end of those microbeads?
In December 2012, Unilever announced its decision to ban the use of plastic microbeads in its cosmetic products by 2015. Unilever was joined by Body Shop, then Beiersdorf, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson and Target. Then L’Oréal announced that its products would not contain any microbeads by the end of 2017, yet calling into question the harmful effects of microbeads for the environment… On July 20th 2016, the law “Biodiversité” has been validated, it states the coming ban on microbeads in different health and beauty products, such as we listed above, from January 1st 2018.
Thus, it encourages the industrialists to replace them by biodegradable particles of natural origin and which would have no impact on animal life, such as mineral powder, some types of sugar and fruit stones.
And you, what can you do?
You can act as well, by avoiding products that contain microbeads. You can for example look at the product composition: “polyethylene” means that there are probably some microbeads in it, or you can go to Beat the micro bead App. It was developed by Surfrider, it has been designed specifically for consumers to check if a product contains microbeads.