What are they?

Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found in a range of body and home products. This includes face cleaners, body scrubs, soaps, toothpastes, hand washes, shampoos, detergents, nail polish and sunscreen. In Australia, there are over 100 personal care products with microbeads mostly made up of facial and body scrubs. Microbeads are used for a range of reasons including as an exfoliant, bulking agent, preservative, or to release of active ingredients over time.


Why are they bad?

Did you know that anywhere between 4500 and 94,500 microbeads can reach the environment per use of just one facial scrub containing these tiny pieces of plastic?! Microbeads remain in the environment for a long time because they are made from strong plastics resistant to degrading. These microplastics are made for personal care or home products that will be washed down the drain. This allows them to easily find their way into our waterways because water treatment systems are not designed to filter these tiny pieces of plastic. Once in our oceans, microbeads are known to both release and absorb toxic chemicals. These microbeads affect small marine animals either by consumption or filtration which then works its way up the food chain. It is possible that these microplastics and their toxic chemicals are present in the seafood that we eat!


What can I do?

The most effective change we can make is to stop using these products in the first place. There are a number of countries introducing laws to stop the making and selling of products containing microbeads. These include large consumption countries such as the USA, Canada, and various countries within Europe. Australia is in the process of addressing this issue with a ‘voluntary industry agreement’ which gives producers the chance to change their practices. This will be reviewed in July 2017, and if this process is not deemed effective then the government will implement a ban in law.


As a consumer, the best thing you can do is to simply buy products that don’t contain microbeads! The link below provides a non-exhaustive list of personal and household products that do not contain microbeads. This can be used to help identify whether your products do contain microbeads, or as a starting point if you’d like to change to products that don’t.



(Tip: using the Control/Command + F function and typing in the brand name will save you time in searching).


Other fun fact: A study by the United Nations Environment Programme titled “Plastic in Cosmetics” found a exfoliating shower gel can contain as much plastic in microbeads as is used in the plastic packaging containing the product.


Source: http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/waste/plastic-microbeads-160306.pdf

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