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17 Aug


Microbeads – Are you unwittingly causing environmental destruction through your choice of toiletries?

17th August 2015 | By |

microbeads and the environmentI read this article in the Irish Times Saturday Magazine which brought the issue of tiny plastic beads or microbeads to my attention. I’m interested in this stuff. I’ve been known to chase a tiny fine plastic hair elastic across a windy beach to prevent it ending up in the gullet of a fish or seabird. But I had no idea of the potential damage I could be causing through my choice of toothpaste or body scrub despite the slew of research and articles I found when I started looking.

Firstly these microbeads are a problem because of their tiny size. They slip through the filters used in wastewater treatment plants and so end up in our waterways. Wildlife may mistake the beads for food or simply ingest them with their food. Plastic can cause blockages in the guts of fish and birds. To add to the problem the plastic beads also attract and absorb other pollutants such as oil and chemicals making waterways more polluted and making the beads even more toxic for the wildlife that eat them. Even if all this was not enough to persuade you of the necessity of banning these things, surely the fact that these ultra toxic beads have the potential to get into the food chain should be a wake-up call.

So how do we avoid them? Check labels for the following and put toiletry products that contain them back on the shelf.

  • Microbeads (at least if this is on the packaging it’s obvious to you what’s in the product)
  • Nylon
  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)

Yes that’s the frustrating bit isn’t it? Trying to remember those names and acronyms. And trying to read the list of ingredients which is inevitably in tiny print. There is an easier way. In researching this I found out about an app called Beat the Microbead from The Plastic Soup Foundation.

Beat the microbead app logo

This can be easily downloaded onto your phone so that you can scan products in the shop before making your purchase. Having downloaded it myself I scanned a very recently purchased body scrub (Sanctuary Spa Moisturising Butter Scrub) and was delighted when it came up clear of microbeads. Apps like this are such a boon for consumers who are striving to make better choices and will become more commonplace for ethical and sustainability issues. So company executives need to consider the products they currently sell but also the products in development and how easily consumers will find out about products and companies in the future right where it matters – at the point of sale.

Some of the big names in personal care products have said they will phase out use of microbeads over the next few years. I do appreciate that changing the formula of a well known product is probably quite difficult but does it really have to take that long? And who thought putting tiny bits of plastic into products that will be rinsed into the water supply system was a good idea in the first place?