Consumables

Are you flooding the oceans with plastic pollution?

Personal care products like facial and body scrubs and polishing toothpastes can be found in most modern bathrooms, yet few of us realise how many of our favourite products contain tiny pieces of plastic.

Cheap plastic microbeads, some as small as ½ mm, in diameter, have been commonly used in cosmetics for nearly a decade, and are currently most often replace natural exfoliants, like pumice, jojoba beads, ground apricot kernel or nut shells, in ‘scrubs’. Some scrubs are up to 5% microplastic, which can amount to more than 300,000 beads in one tube.

The ‘polishers’ in many toothpastes are also microbeads. Phoenix dental hygienist Trish Walvaren sparked a campaign by US dentists when she blogged about finding bright blue flecks trapped between many Crest users’ teeth and gums.

The other common cosmetic use is as body glitter, and even ethical pioneers Lush have owned up to this one. They also turn up in some household cleansers.

Designed to be washed away after one use, non-biodegradeable and too tiny to be filtered out during sewage treatment, microplastics end up in waterways, and eventually the sea. Impossible to clean up, they can now be found in all the world’s oceans, at 450,000 per square kilometer in some places, and can absorb concentrations of persistent organic pollutants. Small marine organisms like plankton and filter-feeding molluscs, unable to distinguish them from food, eat them, and are in turn eaten by fish, contaminating the diets of seabirds and humans.

If you want to immediately stop being part of this problem, start by checking labels before you buy. Any microplastics should be listed among the ingredients. Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene are the most common, but microbeads can be made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene or nylon.

After Dutch NGO Plastic Soup Foundation raised the alarm, more than 60 NGOs across more than 30 countries joined forces as the Beat The Microbread Coalition, and around 2012-3 many multinational corporations and high-street retailers promised to phase out microplastics by this year. Unilever, (which owns Dove) and Colgate-Palmolive both claim to have now phased them out, although Colgate toothpastes, Dove scrubs and even some deodorants containing PE were found in recent shelf checks.

Beiersdorf (Nivea) have yet to replace them as promised, and Johnson & Johnson (Neutrogena), and L’Oréal (which also owns Body Shop) have said they can’t eliminate them before 2017. While L’Oreal has reformulated most Body Shop products, Garnier and Neutrogena lines still appear to contain PE. While maintaining microplastics are “completely safe”, Procter & Gamble, owner of Crest and Oral B, did promise to eliminate them from toothpastes by March 2016, and from other products by 2017.

Lush, by contrast, withdrew all offending products immediately and have since developed an alternative body glitter. Both Lush and Rituals had stopped selling microbeads by 2014. Bulldog and Green People are among the few cosmetic companies never to use them.

FFI, the UK’s Marine Conservation Society and Australia’s Surfrider Foundation produce a helpful, regularly updated lists of plastic-free facial exfoliators. The UK’s March 2015 edition approves facial scrubs from popular brands including some own-brands, and whole ranges by Sk:n, Witch, Burt’s Bees, Dead Sea Spa Magik, Dr Organic, Neal’s Yard, Green People, Bulldog and Lush.

Get the UK or Australian leaflet here: http://www.fauna-flora.org/initiatives/the-good-scrub-guide/, or for other markets and more types of product, see http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/product-lists for 20 regularly updated local lists based on shelf tests. This information is also available via a smartphone app which can check a product by scanning the barcode, returning a simple traffic-light code – Red: Contains microbeads; Orange: Contains microbeads, but manufacturer has committed to replacing or removing them; Green: No microbeads.

If conscious consumers refuse to buy these gratuitously polluting luxury products, it does put significant pressure on all manufacturers, so look out for companies avoiding them, or at least read the label next time you’re buying a scrub, whitening toothpaste or anything glittery. If you find microbeads already in your bathroom, Beatthemicrobead.org suggests returning the product to the manufacturer.

To completely stamp them out we need to make sure absolutely no-one has the option to purchase them at all. Australian, Canadian and EU policymakers are already considering legal bans, while America is undergoing a process of banning them state by state. There are several national and international petitions online and you can pledge to boycott offending products through the Marine Conservation Society at www.mcsuk.org.

5 replies »

  1. Hi Deeper Luxury – fantastic blog as always. Ocean contamination by man-made plastics is a huge concern. Readers can glean some interesting basic insights from the Wikipedia site;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch

    Research has shown that plastic marine debris affects at least 267 species worldwide.

    Some long-lasting plastics end-up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals, and their young, including sea turtles and the Black-footed Albatross. A useful example is the Midway Atoll which receives huge amounts of marine debris from the so called ‘Pacific garbage patch’. Of the 1.5 million Albatrosses that inhabit Midway, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system; approximately one-third of their chicks die, and many of those deaths are due to being fed plastic from their parents. Twenty tons of plastic debris washes up on Midway every year with five tons of that debris being fed to Albatross chicks.

    On the microscopic level the floating debris can absorb organic and deadly chemical pollutants from seawater – aside from the toxic effects, when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system causing hormone disruption in the affected animal. These toxin-containing plastic pieces are also eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish. Many fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals.

    On the macro level, the physical size of larger plastic items kills fish, birds and turtles as the animals’ digestion is unable to break-down the plastic that takes up space inside their stomachs. A secondary effect is to make it more difficult for animals to detect their normal sources of food. While eating their normal source of food, plastic ingestion can be unavoidable.

    Food for thought for us humans when we next choose our favourite body scrub or toothpaste.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks Lets save the rhinos,

    I did find a face scrub made from 100% natural ingredients (sea salt), vegetarian, fighting animal testing and made from 100% recycled plastic. If you take 5 empty pots back to the store you receive a fresh face mask free !

    LUSH Ocean Salt – Face and Body scrub. From £13.95

    Made from limes steeped in vodka, grapefruit and lashings of salt that go into this invigorating face and body scrub. Sea salt is rich in minerals and is excellent for scrubbing away any dead skin. Rich, silky avocado butter, coconut oil and seaweed absolute to keep skin soft, smooth and conditioned. In the summer in preparation of sunbathing or self tanners nothing gets the skin better prepared than exfoliating.

    But everyone needs to stay responsible with their beauty products. This product is a gorgeous product that’s responsible and kind to our planet and its animals !

    Thank you and please keep reading !

    Like

  3. Fascinating read. I wasn’t aware of these cheap plastic microbeads used in many personal care products that most people have in their homes.

    I guess the big challenge is that given that these plastic microbeads are derived from petroleum means that they are not biodegradable and that they are also a finite resource.

    You highlight in your blog that several companies are eliminating these microbeads from their products. What if there would be another solution: bioplastic microbeads. Bioplastics has two sustainable benefits over petroleum-derived plastics: 1) they are biodegradable which implies that they don’t reduce natural capital, such as oceans, and 2) they can be grown and thus do not constitute a finite natural resource.

    Liked by 1 person

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