Why are Microbeads Bad for the Environment?
Widely used in a variety of cosmetic products, from exfoliating scrubs to toothpastes and even lip balms, microbeads are these tiny spheres, that look a lot similar to grains of sugar. They are mostly made of polyethylene or polypropylene - two types of plastic, and though on first impressions they may appear relatively harmless due to their negligible size, which ranges anywhere from a fraction of a millimeter to less than or equal to five millimeters , microbeads represent a serious threat to our environment the very moment they are washed down the drain. So why are microbeads bad for the environment? OneHowTo explains.
What are they made of?
Popular since the 1990s, microbeads are cheaper to mass-produce than other biodegradable alternatives, such as ground nut shells or salt crystals.
They are mainly made of:
- polyethylene (PE)
- polypropylene (PP)
- polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
- polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and
Why are microbeads bad for the environment?
The reason why microbeads are so bad for the environment is because the plastics they are not biodegradable. Instead, they are washed down the drain and, because of their size, manage to escape water treatment filters and end up in our rivers, lakes and eventually, oceans. They become marine debris, polluting our water and our marine wildlife.
This GreenPeace diagram effectively shows how just a few microbeads can have a detrimental effect on our environment.
How they effect the ecosystem
Plastic pollution from microbeads has a direct effect on the marine ecosystem, either through the ingestion or respiration of microbeads by plankton, fishes, mussels or crabs. Microbeads also tend to absorb toxic chemical pollutants and desorb them in the organisms that ingest them. They have thus been found embedded in respiratory and digestive tracts.
But microbeads also endanger the health of hard corals, known as reef builders, preventing them to digest their food. Healthy coral reefs are important because they both contribute to economy through tourism, prevent erosion, act as a source of nitrogen and nutrients and provide habitat for many marine organisms.
Eventual threat to human health
The use of microbeads in toothpaste is also questionable. Many dentists have raised concerns about microbeads potentially getting stuck in our gum channels or between our teeth, encouraging bacteria growth and infections that could result in gingivitis or periodontal disease.
Seafood consumption also carries health risks because of the chemicals present in the marine organisms who ingested microbeads. These chemicals are called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). They are responsible for altering reproductive functions, they increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and brain deterioration.
It is important to be know about the impact of microbeads and why are microbeads bad. Fortunately there are various ways to prevent microbeads pollutions :
- Watch out for polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate or polymethyl methacrylate on the list of product ingredients that you purchase.
- You can also download the Beat the Microbead App, created by The North Sea Foundation in association with The Plastic Soup Foundation. This App lets you know if a product contains microbeads, by simply scanning its barcode.
- You may look into the many brands who have developed organic and non-toxic cosmetics such as Lush or switch to making your own scrubs.
More and more authorities are also becoming aware of the dangers of microbeads and are banning them. Its important that we do our part too in practising conscious consumerism.
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