Microbeads are tiny, round plastic particles less than 5mm in diameter that don’t degrade or otherwise dissolve in water. They are added to a range of products, including toothpaste, sunscreen, face scrubs, body wash, cosmetics such as foundation and blush, and other care products.
Because microbeads are commonly found in cosmetics and other types of products that are washed off (like a face scrub), they frequently end up going down the drain. One study estimated that 808 trillion plastic microbeads are washed down household drains every day in the US . Of these, 8 trillion make it through water treatment plants and into rivers, lakes, and oceans. According to the UK Government, “just one shower alone is thought to send 100,000 microbeads down the drain and into the ocean”.
Why it matters
Microbeads (and other types of microplastics) are accumulating in oceans worldwide and have been found in even the most remote marine environments. This is particularly problematic to marine organisms which accidentally ingest microbeads. This might be done unintentionally while filter- or deposit-feeding, by mistaking microplastics as prey, or by ingesting prey that contains microplastics. Once ingested, microplastics can accumulate within the animal, causing harm and potentially death.
Furthermore, microbeads have a large surface area to volume ratio which makes them particularly susceptible to absorbing and becoming heavily contaminated with toxins, in particular persistent organic pollutants (POP). Sometimes referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because of the extremely long period of time that they remain in the environment, POPs are toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and can accumulate in, and pass from, one species to the next through the food chain. This means that any seafood or fish that we eat might be contaminated by POPs through the direct ingestion of microbeads, or by eating other animals that at one point ingested microbeads.
Because microbeads are made from plastic that does not dissolve or degrade, once in the environment they are almost impossible to remove.
Why you might want to choose microbead-free products
Plastics in the ocean are a major problem. Microbeads are a part of this problem with far reaching implications for marine life, the environment and human health.
The use of microbeads in cosmetics, personal products, and cleaning products are unnecessary and can therefore be easily replaced with better, more sustainable and less harmful alternatives, such as oats, jojoba beads, coffee grounds, sugar and salt.
What you can do
The best way to reduce the harm caused by microbeads and prevent them from entering the environment is to avoid them all together.
You can search our store for products that are free from microbeads. You can also read about what we can all do to support wildlife, the oceans, and prevent biodiversity loss or give directly to a relevant charity working with these causes. We also suggest looking into our plastic free, reef safe, natural and ocean friendly products.