Microbeads beads have been making headlines recently as many countries around the world enact legislation to reduce their consumption or ban them entirely. As the name suggests, microbeads are tiny spheres of plastic that range in size from 10 micrometers to 1 millimeter. They are found in many personal care products like soaps, cosmetics, and toothpastes, and they are commonly used as exfoliants.
The problem with microbeads is that they are a major source of water pollution. The microbeads used in personal care products are designed to wash straight down the drain. However, plastic is not naturally biodegradable, and microbeads are too small to be caught by the filters used in water treatment plants. So despite their tiny size, microbeads are wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems because of the sheer quantity in which they are consumed. New York alone washes 19 tons of microbeads down the drain each year. They pollute waterways, become ingested by marine life, spread toxins through the foodchain, and can even be found in seafood consumed by humans .
Yet keeping the world’s oceans healthy is vital to our fight against climate change. It is estimated that ocean ecosystems produce 50% of the oxygen in the atmosphere and store five times more carbon than the rainforests . Widespread disruptions to ocean ecosystems severely compromise their ability to regulate the global climate.
The simplest thing that you can do to help solve the microbead problem is to boycott them entirely. Check the ingredients in your personal care products and try to avoid any that contain forms of plastic such as polyethylene, PET, PMMA, polypropylene, or nylon. Look for alternatives made with natural exfoliants instead. The “Good Scrub Guide,” compiled by Flora and Fauna International, and BeatTheMicrobead.org are useful references for finding eco-friendly products [3-4]. Although many companies are creating biodegradable microbeads in response to the ban legislation, some of these may not go far enough to protect the environment. There is some question as to whether all of these alternatives will breakdown in natural marine conditions , so make sure to research specific products before you buy them. Finally, be sure the spread the word among your family and friends. Because microbeads are so tiny, many people don’t realize that they use them every day or the harm that they cause the environment. Boycotting microbeads and encouraging others to do the same are simple ways to fight climate change by protecting marine ecosystems.
2. Cox, Tanya. "Introducing the Good Scrub Guide." Oryx 48.1 (2014): 13.
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