As many of you will know, we are marine litter obsessives here at the claire potter design studio, with our own ‘passion research’ concentrated around the huge marine litter and ocean plastic issues. So we were delighted to see an appeal for the UK banning of cosmetic microplastics and microbeads hit the headlines on 24th August.
The Environmental Audit Committee has stated, very correctly, that the microplastics which are under 5mm in size – often called microbeads can be found hidden in daily use items such as shower gel scrubs and toothpaste. These microbeads can now be found in the worlds oceans – as far away from human habitation as the Arctic, trapped in the diminishing sea ice, floating in the water columns and being consumed by all of marine life. For us, this is unfortunately something that we have known about for a long while, but it is very encouraging to see it exposed to such a wide audience in the top line news as an issue that needs addressing.
What is microplastic?
Now, the term microplastics covers many things, including plastics that have photodegraded into tiny pieces in the oceans, fibres that are lost from washing of synthetic materials like fleeces (up to 2g per wash) and the tiny beads which can be found in cosmetics, which are too small to be caught in filter systems. It is this last group that have been called out in the recent report – and if anything, the easiest to tackle. We just need to stop putting microbeads into our products. And when you consider that up to 100,000 microplastic beads can be washed down the drain from just ONE shower, a ban will go a very, very long way. It is estimated that up to 51 trillion pieces of microplastic have accumulated in our oceans. The reality is, nobody quite knows how much in there and we are just starting to learn about the consequences.
The US have already started a phased ban of the addition of microbeads into products, starting with a ban on all cosmetics containing microbeads from July 2017, and some would argue that it never should have taken so long for the UK government to begin action themselves. Countless campaigns such as Beat the Microbead from the Marine Conservation Society and similar campaigns such as Ban the Bead from Surfers Against Sewage have brought the issue to public attention over recent years, but this new report should push that rolling ball a little further towards legislation.
So, whilst the decision is made by the UK government on whether, and when to ban microbeads in cosmetics, what can you do in the meantime? We would advocate using the acronym from marine litter activists, Parley for the Oceans – AIR – Avoid / Intercept / Redesign. As consumers, we can choose to AVOID products with microbeads in.
How to go microbead free…
But of course, no product is going to emblazon the fact that is contains such damaging ingredients on the front of the label. No. You need to do a little investigation…
Look for products that state they have 100% natural scrubs in, such as the Original Source scrub range (which use almond fragments instead), or products by ethical manufacturers, such as Lush, who do a magnificent range of plastic free alternatives and offer refill and low packaging options.
Shower scrubs and face scrubs are quite easy. The harder ones to seek out are the microbeads in toothpaste. So – turn the packet over and look at the ingredients. If you see any of the below, you will likely have a product with microbeads in your hands:
– Polyethylene / Polythene (PE)
– Polypropylene (PP)
– Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
– Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
See any of these? Put the product down. Vote with your wallet and find a better, microbead free alternative. They are there and they are likely to not cost any more than those with plastic in.
And of course, there is an app for that too. The Beat the Microbead app, which was previously just available in Europe, now contains information on those products that contain microbeads. Use the app to scan barcodes and find out more about the products…
It is critical that we minimise the plastic that enters our oceans as the damage that it is having on the marine environment is quite staggering and hugely unreported in general media. But as individuals we do not have to feel helpless. We can do our own small part. And personally banning microplastics and microbeads from our homes and workplaces is a great way to start.