From Bathroom Drain to Food Chain: The Problems of Cosmetic Microbeads
Thousands of beauty items currently available on the market contain tiny particles of plastic referred to as ‘microbeads’, popular for their exfoliation and deep-cleansing effects. Although such products are internationally promoted for their beauty benefits, most people are unaware of the incredibly dangerous impact they can have on the environment and, consequently, us. This has prompted a legislative proposal in New York which intends to prohibit the sale of beauty items containing plastic beads in an attempt to reduce the risk of water pollution.
How microbeads damage the environment
Hardly visible to the naked eye, microbeads are microscopic balls of hard plastic which flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewerage system. Too small to be filtered out of wastewater treatment plants, which are industrial structures designed to remove biological or chemical waste products from water, the tiny beads end up in the ocean.
It is here where these plastic beads do the most damage, as the toxic coating becomes a lethal pollutant ingested by wildlife and the surrounding sea organisms. As this plastic does not biodegrade, it is impossible to remove making it a persistent poison which is absorbed or eaten by sea creatures and passed along the marine food chain.
Scientists have now suggested that as humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, it is likely that we are also consuming microbeads in the food we eat.
Using products that do not contain microbeads
Finding microbead-free products can be a challenge. Up until now, it has been left in the consumers’ hands to take action themselves with the introduction of an app called Beat the Microbead, which lets iPhone users scan barcodes to see whether a product contains microbeads.
However, lawmakers have now taken major steps in the fight against water pollution caused by these plastic beads. Due to the high concentrations along the New York shores of Lake Erie and in the Pacific Ocean, a legislative proposal has been devised in New York to outlaw the sale of beauty products containing tiny plastic beads in a bid to reduce the environmental risk.
Removal of microbeads from products
Well-known manufacturers have also taken positive action which has meant that more and more of these microbeads are being removed from beauty products and replaced by naturally biodegradable alternatives. Some manufacturers have agreed to phase out the use of plastic beads and others already use non-plastic alternatives such as powdered pecan shells, ground almonds and oatmeal. However, the overall removal of microbeads from beauty products may prove to be a difficult feat as using plastic is a far more cost effective method than natural substitutions.
Microbeads and water pollution
Anti-pollution activists argue that controlling the use of microbeads in cosmetics can limit the environmental risk of water pollution. Experts hope this new legislative proposal will put some pressure on the corporate giants to scrub out the use of microbead plastics in their cleansing products indefinitely.
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