Microbeads clogging up our oceans

By Sarah Harvey

Microbeads PHOTO: 5 Gyres Institute
Microbeads PHOTO: 5 Gyres Institute

Tiny plastic microbeads from cosmetic products are becoming a major part of the pollution clogging up our oceans and waterways.

Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic that many companies have added to body scrubs, cosmetics and soaps to create an exfoliating sensation for users.

In a shocking report in Environmental Science And Technology  researchers found as many as 8 trillion plastic microbeads end up in the water bodies each day, in the United States alone. If poured on to a tennis court, that would be enough microbeads to cover more than 300 tennis courts a day.

According to the report microplastic has been found in every major open ocean and many freshwater lakes and rivers.

And, “because of the difficulty of large-scale cleanup, environmental managers, scientists, and environmentalists have stressed that the best solution to microplastic pollution is source reduction”. That is, we need to stop using products with microbeads included.


Microbeads are made from synthetic polymers including polyethylene, polylactic acid (PLA), polypropylene, polystyrene, or polyethylene terephthalate.

They are used in hundreds of products, often as abrasive scrubbers, including face washes, body washes, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies, and are used as a replacement for natural exfoliating materials, such as pumice, oatmeal, or walnut husks, the report says.

Microbeads are similar in size to a grain of sand and they are drained out when we use the products containing them. These are usually able to escape the filtering systems and end up in water bodies.

The report says public support for banning microbeads is growing and has prompted action from multinational companies, NGOs, and policy-makers.

The Netherlands was the first country to announce its intent to ban the manufacture and sale of cosmetic products containing microbeads by 2016.

Accord- Australia’s hygiene, cosmetic and speciality products industry body, has vowed to help phase out the use of  microbeads in cosmetics by the end of 2017.

In April, Warren Matthews, the founder of  New Zealand supplement and skincare company Xtend-Life Natural Products, urged the “government to fight to stop the manufacture and sale of plastic microbeads in all personal care and consumer products in this country”.

According to pharmacytoday.co.nz the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association in New Zealand is committed to ensure a phase-out is implemented as soon as practicable. New Zealand companies with products sold in the United States will look to phase out the use of microbeads by 2017.




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