Microbeads are small balls of plastic most commonly found in soaps, shower gels, toothpaste,
facial scrubs and abrasive cleaners. A public consultation has been launched on a proposed legislative ban on certain items containing these plastic beads. The public consultation process will close on 24 March 2017. In light of the potential ban, Collette McEntee quizzed friends and family to gauge the perception of the plastic ingredient and the environmental damage that results.
The threat of microbeaded products is not something to the fore of many minds and when I visited a branch of a well-known international pharmacy chain. I t proved difficult to find products without microbead content and staff were not fully aware of the potential risks.
Microbeads are hardly visible to the naked eye as they are smaller than 5mm, usually between 0.0004-1.24 mm wide. They flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out microbeads – they are not biodegradable and can affect marine life.
MICROBEADS IN THE FOOD CHAIN
Microbeads on a fingertip
Not only the physical presence of plastic but the toxins that emanate are incredibly damaging too. All sorts of organisms living in or off the sea are mistakenly digesting the plastic debris for food. Once in the sea, creatures absorb/eat them and they are passed along the marine food chain. Perched at the top of this food chain, we, humans, absorb the microbeads from the food we eat.
Banning microbeads is not going to resolve the plastic pollution epidemic but it is a step in the right direction. For more than half of the global population, oceans are the principal source of food and so, plastic marine pollution is seriously damaging. Microbeads are part of a larger damaging sphere, traced back to land sources – plastic waste is dumped by industries, cities, ships and fisheries and finds its way into the sea via rivers etc.
The US has already banned microbeads, the UK are beginning a process to do so, and even Cosmetics Europe, the industry lobby in the EU, have recommended they be phased out. Once they’ve entered our water and ocean systems, microbeads are impossible to remove. Positive action on behalf of manufacturers has resulted in the increasing removal of microbeads from personal care products and there are biodegradable alternatives for microbead infused products. A wet face cloth is a sufficient and affordable exchange for a microbead exfoliator.
Undoubtedly, the argument that a ban posed a risk of economic loss to existing companies that use microbeads in their products, will arise. However, for the sake of a sustainable world, we must combat the use of harmful, long term damaging products in favour of biodegradable products. The ban is a step forward, toward a cleaner and more conscientious environment. Marine life and humans will have a reduced risk of plastic ingestion.
We, like animals and our environment, are not designed to take in these toxic micro-plastics. Natural and biodegradable alternatives are more than beneficial to our bodies, minds, pockets, land and sea. At risk of being borderline archaic – we should look back on the years, well before these consumer driven commodities and steal back the simple, cost effective and natural approach for ourselves and the earth’s health.
Simple actions such as washing your face and brushing your teeth with products containing microbeads are causing great, long term harm. It is our duty to reconsider the products we use and how we use them. For yourselves, marine life and those that come after you – beat the bead! By taking the time to properly consider the products we buy and by doing the survey, we are helping to halt the increasing plastic pollution of marine environments.
TAKE THE PUBLIC CONSULTATION SURVEY
The public consultation online survey initiated by the Minister Simon Convene has four sections under headings; 1) General, 2) Ban-Specific, 3) Consequences of Intervention and 4) Research and Evidence. It is a lengthy questionnaire and we encourage you to utilise the points in this article to fill out and submit a worthy entry toward a worthy cause. Please complete the online survey at http://www.housing.gov.ie/public-consultation-ban-microbeads or email your observations/comments to email@example.com
There are many working, successful examples of movements and websites in favour of the micro-plastic ban. Transition Monaghan, of the global Transition Town movement, are one of Ireland’s many groups that can aid the awareness campaign. For a concise, broad overview of the international campaign against micro-plastic ingredients, check out ‘Beat the Microbead’ http://www.beatthemicrobead.org.
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