The U.K. government pledged on September 3 to phase out plastic microbeads in cosmetics by the end of 2017. We’re expected to know which products will be covered by the ban in the coming days. [1]

The United Stated government pledged something similar in the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. The act was passed in mid-December, and signed into law by President Obama later that month. The bans the manufacture and sale of microbeads in soaps, toothpaste, and body washes. [2]

Greenpeace applauded the ban, but said it needs to be extended to other products, too. The group’s oceans campaigner, Louise Edge, said:

“It’s a credit to Theresa May’s government that they’ve listened to concerns from the public, scientists, and MPs and taken a first step towards banning microbeads.

But marine life doesn’t distinguish between plastic from a face wash and plastic from a washing detergent, so it makes no sense for this ban to be limited to some products and not others, as is currently proposed.” [1]

Why Ban Microbeads?

Environmental pollution. The world’s waterways are littered with these tiny balls of plastic – about 8 billion of them wind up in U.S. waterways each year. That’s enough to cover 300 tennis courts, but that only accounts for 1% of the microbeads in the world.

Source: The Buffalo News

Microbeads end up in sewage treatment plants, where they litter the land before runoff eventually sends them into streams and oceans.

When you think of plastic pollution, you might think of larger items, like bottles. But the tiny size of microbeads actually makes them a bigger threat, because it’s easier for fish and animals to consume them.

That brings us to the next point…

Fish Eat Microplastics

Plastic doesn’t break down in water, so fish mistake these confetti-sized chunks of plastic for food and eat them. In many cases, the fish become sick and die, but the risk doesn’t end there.

The harmful substances found in plastics – PCB’s, flame retardants, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, to name a few – transfer to the fish. Concentrations of these substances have been found in studies to build up in the creatures.

In some studies, fish that had eaten microplastics went on to develop cancer. In fact, one fish fed a “dirty plastic diet” by researchers was found to have 25% of its liver taken over by a tumor when it was dissected, which the researchers described as “incredibly rare.”

This contamination moves up the food chain, so one has to wonder, are people also being sickened by microplastics in the environment?

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How to Spot Products Containing Microbeads

Some cosmetics manufacturers have already phased out microbeads in some, if not all, of their products, Unilever, Avon, and Bath & Body Works. A more comprehensive list can be found at BeatTheMicrobead.org/en.

Johnson & Johnson, which produces face scrubs under the brands Neutrogena and Clean & Clear, has committed to phasing out microbeads by the end of 2017. Procter and Gamble, which owns Crest toothpaste, Gillette, and Olay, have also vowed to stop using them by the end of next year. [3]

Products containing microbeads don’t always say “microbeads” on the label. If you’re looking for a “safe” product, look for words like polyethylene, polypropylene and polymethylmethacrylate, which are all the chemicals names of plastic. Nylon may also be listed along with the abbreviations PET, PTFE, and PMMA.

Sources:

[1] The Guardian

[2] The Verge

[3] BBC News

NBC4i.com

The Buffalo News


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About Julie Fidler:
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.