Microbeads, as the name suggests, may be tiny, but they pose a big environmental problem and are said to have an adverse impact on ecosystems, wildlife, and human health. Here’s how.
Microbeads resemble tiny, colourful dots that are suspended in personal care items such as lotions, toothpastes, hand sanitizers, soaps and facial scrubs. Microbeads claim to exfoliate by scrubbing away dirt more efficiently. These microplastics have become increasingly popular over the past 10 years, since they are a cheaper alternative to natural exfoliants like apricot seeds and coconut husks.
These tiny, perfectly spherical, synthetic plastic particles that look like grains of sand are known to contribute to major plastic pollution in lakes and other water bodies.
Environmental impact of microbeads
When used directly, microbeads are not harmful. But the problem arises when these microbeads are washed down the drain along with the soap. Since they are too small to be caught by the filters in water-treatment plants and are also tough to dissolve, they find their way into water bodies.
Because these plastic fragments are not biodegradable and are highly absorbent, they are discharged into natural water systems and cause untold damage to fish and algae.
Once in the water, the miniscule plastic beads are absorbed by algae, which in turn are consumed by fish, making their way up the food chain, and ending up in the flesh of fish that humans eat. And once they enter the marine environment, it is impossible to remove them.
Health impact of microbeads
Microbeads absorb toxic pollutants like heavy metals, and oil. When the contaminated beads are swallowed by fish and other marine creatures, these chemicals are introduced into our food supply.
When toothpastes that contain microbeads are used, there is a possibility that they remain in the mouth, trap bacteria and possibly cause gingivitis.
Response of cosmetics companies
In the face of consumer pressure, and considering the environmental and health effects that microbeads cause, some large cosmetics manufacturers have either removed microbeads from their products or have committed to phase them out. Johnson & Johnson has pledged to eliminate the beads by 2017, while Procter & Gamble has also promised to phase them out.
What you can do
To cleanse your beauty routine of microbeads, just make face and body scrubs at home using biodegradable materials and, stay clear from products that contain polyethylene or polystyrene in the ingredients list.
With a little research, we can steer clear of microbeads, encourage safe food, and stop pollution of the environment on which we rely.