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Microbeads: time for a ban?

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An influential government committee has backed a global ban on the tiny marine-damaging plastic particles found in cosmetic products including face washes, exfoliators, shampoo and even some toothpastes.

Microbeads are added to products for their exfoliating and cleansing action. When rinsed off, the microbeads are washed down the drain into rivers and oceans as they are too small to be filtered out at water treatment plants. Yet, exfoliation can just as easily be achieved through natural alternatives, such as apricot shells, jojoba beans and pumice.

Once the tiny plastic microbeads enter marine eco-systems their minute size and sheer number make them impossible to remove. A new study has found that small fish may prefer eating microbeads over natural food sources such as plankton.

However, some companies, such as Green People, have never used microbeads in any product. Working closely with the Marine Conservation Society, they donate 30p from the sale of every Scent Free Sun Lotion to help protect and preserve our marine habitats.

What to look out for on the label
The main type of plastic used in exfoliators is polyethylene. To guarantee you are using cosmetics without microbeads, you should also check the ingredients list for oxidised polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), nylon and polypropylene.

Whilst we may be used to checking the labels of products such as toothpaste, scrubs and shower gels, microbeads have made their way into some rather unexpected places. Products such as mascaras may contain microbeads to add a volumising effect to lashes, while some sun lotions may also use microbeads.

Microbead facts:

  • A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean
  • Between 80,000 and 219,000 tonnes of microplastics enter the marine environment across Europe per year
  • Greenpeace find pieces of plastic in every sample of seawater they study from around the world
  • An average plate of oysters could contain up to 50 plastic particles

Yorkshire-based BigGreen.co.uk says microbeads are still perfectly legal in Britain, yet are steadily causing damage to the environment. Spokesman Mark Hall says:  “The greener alternatives actually work better, and you’re not smearing little balls of plastic all over your face. So why are we still using these ridiculous products?” It all comes down to one simple question. “Is your beauty regime really worth killing the planet?”