Every time you jump in the shower or brush your teeth, you might be contributing to a huge global environmental issue without even knowing it – thanks to microbeads! Microbeads are those teeny weeny little balls (smaller than 2mm) you find in your exfoliating face wash, body scrub, or even toothpaste, that polish your skin (or teeth) clean. The issue is that the majority of these microbeads are made of PLASTIC! These microplastics may be small, but they’re causing big problems for our environment and our health.
Because microbeads are so tiny, most waste water treatment processes don’t remove them, so they get carried through into our natural environment. They go down the drain and into our lakes, rivers, and oceans — where they accumulate at a terrifying rate of 8 trillion beads a DAY (globally). The Great Lakes in the US are choking from this plastic pollution. A paper published in 20131 showed that while Lake Michigan had an average of 17,000 microbeads per square kilometre, some areas of Lake Ontario had as many as 1.1 million beads per square kilometre! As we know, plastic doesn’t biodegrade so they can hang around in our waters for years. The tiny beads absorb toxins when in the water, becoming toxic themselves, and are then eaten by aquatic life. Slowly, they then make their way up the food chain, potentially all the way to our dinner plates. Never mind the fact that you may very well swallow a few from your toothpaste!
What you can do?
If you don’t want to find plastic in your sushi, ideally avoid all kinds of ‘scrubs’ or exfoliating products. But if you really love the feeling of a scrub, then look out for products that state to be BIODEGRADABLE on the packaging, or make sure your favourite scrub’s ingredient list doesn’t contain any code words for plastic, such as:
polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate or polymethyl methacrylate.
Barack Obama has recently banned the use of microbeads in the US, and so has Canada, but in South Africa we unfortunately aren’t quite there yet. Woolworths Australia has recently pledged to no longer stock products that contain microbeads, but I cannot find any confirmation of the same for Woolworths SA.
Scrubs that don’t use plastic microbeads:
African Extracts’ scrubs use ground rooibos leaves and apricot kernels in their scrubs. These can be found at most Clicks and Dischem stores, as well as other major pharmacies and supermarkets.
Woolworths’ Earth Friendly Facial Exfoliator (with willowbark,hawthorn & geranium complex).
online shop also has a couple of eco-friendly alternative face and body srcubs.
If you would like to read up in more detail about the issue of microbeads, follow these links: http://www.plasticfreeseas.org/microbeads.html