Our Ethics – Microbead Free

We’ve spoken about microbeads on the blog before, but today I’d like to go a bit more in depth about the issue of microbeads and microplastics, especially as Plastic Free July is just around the corner (which you can read about in Wednesday’s blog!).

What’s Wrong with Microbeads?

Microbeads and microplastics aren’t biodegradable, which means when they are washed down our drains they won’t naturally degrade. They are also way too small to be filtered out in water treatment centres, so they will always end up in streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. You might think this isn’t such a big deal, but you need to remember there is life under water.

Fish and marine animals have been found to eat microbeads and microplastics, which can be extremely damaging to their health – just imagine what would happen if you ate a lump of plastic! Not only are there health implications for marine wildlife, we also have to consider ourselves. Fish makes up a relatively large percentage of our diet, and if they are eating microbeads, we could be eating microbeads.

A major issue here is that plastic microbeads absorb pollutants like pesticides, flame retardants, motor oil and more. A microbead can be up to a million times more toxic than the water around it. Now you can see why you wouldn’t want them in your food.

What Can You Do?

The obvious answer to helping the microbead problem is to stop buying products with microbeads in them. Of course this isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds.

First of all, they won’t be called ‘microbeads’ in the ingredients. The ingredients you want to be looking out for are polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate or polymethyl methacrylate, these are the most common materials microbeads are made from.

When you think of microbeads you tend to think they’ll only be found in face and body scrubs, and those are easy to replace with more natural alternatives. However, there are so many more everyday products that may contain microplastic – toothpaste, shower gel, face wash, lip gloss and laundry powder to name a few. Unfortunately that means we have to be extra diligent to make sure we are not contributing to the issue.

Thankfully there are resources to help. Fauna & Flora International has published lists of microbead free products, and you can download a ‘Beat the Microbead‘ app.

You can also check out our Microbead Free tag to find microplastic free alternatives to your favourite products.

What is Already Being Done?

It’s very likely that you’ve already heard of the Government’s plan to ban microbeads. This follows a series of bans in other countries such as the US. The aim is to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing microbeads. This ban would apply to solid microplastic measuring less than 5mm in size, and it is expected to come into force by 1st October 2017.

While this of course is a step in the right direction, I’ve previously mentioned that microbeads aren’t only found in cosmetics, but these are the only products the ban would apply to.

The microbeads coalition consisting of the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and the Marine Conservation Society want the government to follow the guidelines recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee:

  • Any definition of ‘microbeads’ must include all solid plastic ingredients smaller than 5mm used for any purpose (not just for exfoliation). There should be no lower size limit included in the definition;
  • The legislation should cover all products that are washed down the drain or are directly discharged into waterways or the marine environment. This includes a wide range of cosmetic and personal care products as well as cleaning products, make-up, and industrial products;
  • Legislation should not allow so-called ‘biodegradable’ plastics to be used as alternatives, as these materials do not degrade in the marine environment and therefore are not a solution to the problem;
  • There should be a clear and prompt timeline for phasing out these ingredients, and a date after which products containing microplastics must not be sold.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. What are your microbead free products?

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