Microbeads may be tiny but they add up to a huge plastic problem in the oceans. It’s estimated that there can be up to 300,000 microbeads in a bottle of face scrub and they all wash down the drain where they can be eaten by marine life.
Microbeads are defined as tiny spheres of plastic ranging in size from 1 millimetre in diameter (a pin head) to 1 micrometre (invisible to the naked eye). They are added to many beauty products for their exfoliating properties.
They are so small that water treatment facilities can not extract them from waste water and because they are plastic they don’t break down when they reach oceans or rivers. There is now evidence that fish confuse them for food and eat them. Once they enter the food chain they start working their way up to the big predators - including us.
Companies in Australia have been given until July 2018 to remove microbeads from their products. Environment Minister Greg Hunt has said that if by July 2017 it is clear that the voluntary phase out will not achieve a widespread ban, then the Federal Government will take action to implement a legal ban.
Supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths have agreed to phase out their own-brand products containing microbeads. Unilever, L’Oreal, Beiersdorf (Nivea), Reckitt Benckiser (Clearasil), Johnson and Johnson, The Body Shop, Ella Bache and Clarins have agreed to the voluntary phase-out.
What You Can Do
Microbead is an easy word to remember but they can appear under a variety of pretty confusing names when they are in products.
To keep your home a microbead free zone look for these names on the ingredient list:
- Polyethylene terephalate (PET)
- Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
- Polylactic acid
The good people at Beat The Microbead have put together a few Australian lists to help you make better choices. They include:
- Products that DO NOT have microbeads
- Products that currently contain microbeads but the manufacturer has indicated that they will be removing them
- Products WITH microbeads and no indication that the product will change
These lists are incredibly helpful and are updated regularly, but are not exhaustive. To complement them you can download the Beat the Microbead app which allows you to scan the barcode of a product to see if it contains microbeads. The app provides the option of adding products, so if you scan something that you know has microbeads and it hasn’t been registered, you can alert other users. Be sure to change your region to Australia when you open the app, as it doesn’t automatically prompt you to choose your location.
Finally, if you have products at home that contain microbeads you can print off a letter developed by Beat the Microbead and send it and the products back to the manufacturer as a way of letting them know your thoughts.