You might have forgotten about them, but two years ago microbeads were all the rage, literally. The tiny plastic particles used in cosmetics were a topic of hot debate in 2015 and 2016 after word got around that aquatic wildlife were treating them as a snack. Unfortunately, this kind of snack was soaking up toxins and causing starvation. But what was the fate of those microscopic polluters?
Since people started speaking out against the use of microbeads in 2012, four countries have banned the use of microbeads—Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United States—with Australia, India, Scotland, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, and the UK all looking to follow suit. Almost 450 brands have promised to stop using plastic microbeads, and environmentally safe alternatives are being investigated.
However, there are still plenty of nations contributing to the problem. From China alone, an estimated 210 trillion microbeads flow into the ocean every year. Any country in the European Union looking to implement a similar ban may end up breaking the organization’s free trade policies. The United States’ ban has issues of its own. The current ban only applies to microbeads used in facial washes, body washes, and toothpastes, but it does nothing to prevent the use of microplastics in detergents or makeup. Biodegradable beads come with their own set of problems. It is unclear how long it takes for them to biodegrade, and in the meantime they can pick up and introduce toxins to the food chain.
The world is doing better since the “Ban the Bead” campaigns started back in 2015, but there is still a long way to go. As always, the consumer has the power of purchasing on their side. Don’t forget to use it by refusing to buy products that contain polyethylene or polypropylene, which the two ingredients microbeads are typically made of. With a time and awareness, we can continue to work to #banthebead.
Source for statistics: http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/
Written by Laura Whipple