Renewed Collective

Microbeads. The tiny product causing huge issues.

Microbeads are the tiny product causing huge issues to marine life, the environment and human health.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Chemicals Agency, microplastics are very small fragments of plastic than are less than 5mm in length. Microplastics are not a specific type of plastic, but can come from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing and industrial processes.

What are microbeads?

One type of microplastic of great concern are microbeads. These are small, solid, manufactured plastic particles that don’t dissolve or degrade in water. These are found in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products. They are often used as an abrasive or exfoliant in place of natural exfoliating ingredients, or as a cheap filler or bulking agent. They are relatively cheap so companies use them in place of more expensive ingredients, therefore keeping the manufacturing costs of products lower. They are often found in face wash or scrubs, hand or body wash, toothpaste, sunscreen, and cosmetics such as foundation.

Common microbead ingredients include;

  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
  • Nylon (PA)

The impacts of microbeads.

Due to their tiny composition, microbeads can be barely visible to the naked eye. As they are generally used in rinse-off products, they flow straight from the bathroom drain and into our sewer systems. Arriving at the wastewater treatment plants, they are unable to be completely captured and filtered out, continuing on their journey and entering our rivers and oceans.

This is causing a devastating effect on our marine life, especially smaller sea animals unable to tell the difference between food and microplastics. These are then passed along the marine food chain, eventually ending up with humans. Yes, if we are eating fish or other animals from the ocean, it is likely we are ingesting a small amount of microplastics. 

Plastic waste floating in the ocean with invisible microbeads and microplastics

15 countries currently ban, or have taken steps to ban microbeads. This includes New Zealand, the UK and the USA. Australia does not currently ban microbeads in products.

In 2016 the Department of Energy and Environment worked with industry and state and territory government to support a voluntary phase-out of microbeads in rinse-off products. An independent assessment in late 2017 found that of the approximately 4400 supermarket, pharmacy and cosmetic store products inspected, 94% were microbead free. This still left 6% which still included this troublesome ingredient, plus the numerous products which aren’t classified as rinse-off.

The Australian Government has previously stated that they would ban microbeads by July 2018 if the industry had not completely stopped using them. In late 2020 the Department commissioned another independent assessment of rinse-off products to see if progress had been made with the voluntary phase-out. The research included 248 in-store surveys and 29 online store surveys. The assessment found the following;

  • of the approximately 8100 unique products inspected, 99.3 per cent were microbead-free.
  • for the 0.7 per cent of products containing microbeads, facial scrubs, facial cleansers, and face masks were the most common product types using microbeads as an ingredient.
  • there were no microbeads present in cleaning products or in oral hygiene products surveyed, such as mouthwash and toothpaste.

We have made clear progress over the last few years but even though we have come so far other countries are leading the way and have banned this unnecessary ingredient.

Finding eco-friendly alternatives to Microbeads.

There are some amazing resources out there to help you with the issue of microbeads, the best being ‘Beat the Micro Bead’. This website and app was created by the Plastic Soup foundation and is an incredible resource, where you can search for a particular brand or product and see their rating, and if microplastics are included. They have also created a certification that companies can apply for. Companies are then able to use the ‘Zero Plastic Inside’ logo on their products, which clearly show consumers that their products are 100% free of microplastics, guaranteed. 

Planet-friendly alternatives to microbead exfoliators:

  • Jojoba beads
  • Salt
  • Coffee
  • Oats
  • Coffee
  • Yoghurt
  • Sugar

Microbeads are not biodegradable, so once they enter the environment, especially our waterways and oceans, they are almost impossible to remove. That is why we need to remove the problem before it makes its way into the environment. The Government is making changes, but until there is legislation banning microbeads it is up to us to choose products that don’t include them.

With the increase in amazing natural products, we have a vast selection of alternative products to choose from that are more effective, and healthier for us, the environment and our families.

Our Eco Directory has a great range of beauty products that do not contain any nasties including microbeads.

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