We have new types of beads settling in and coming out of water….and I’m not talking about fancy coral beads!
Microbeads are tiny sized plastic balls which are making their way to everywhere they do not belong; our beauty regimes, bathroom cabinets, household detergents, tooth pastes and most disturbingly, our lakes, rivers, seas, oceans and food crops!
The <5mm orbs of colourful plastic micro balls usually found in personal care products are added into exfoliating facial washes, scrubs, tooth pastes and household detergents to give a gritty quality and to enhance their exfoliation strength. While it’s great to find products that are effective in sloughing off dirt and excess grease from our skins, using microbeads comes with the price of a polluted environment and a threatened food chain.
When you wash your face, brush your teeth or wash your floors with products containing microbeads, the microbeads get washed into the drains. From there the beads get into waste water treatment plants where they are too small to be detected or filtered, and thus the waters containing microbeads end up getting discharged into the waterways. A large portion of microbeads also end up in sludge from sewage plants. Sewage sludge is often used as fertilizers on farms, which means that plastic microbeads are getting sprayed on our crops where they are either absorbed by the soil or get washed away by rainwater…. back into our streams and oceans!
The problem with this is that plastics are non-biodegradable and can possibly settle in water or the ground, FOREVER! In the waters, microbeads have been found to be absorbed by algae, which are eaten by fish and other aquatic animals. Fish have also been found to mistake microbeads for food and after consuming, some get diseased while a lot more lose their lives. For example, when Coral polyps, which coral beads are made from, confuse microbeads with real food, the plastic clogs up their digestive systems, hinder their ability to digest the nutrients they need and causes them to starve to death.
In the first place, some of the dyes and flame retardants used to make plastics are actually toxic, and when plastic gets into water bodies, they are chemically and physically able to absorb other hydrophobic toxins and pollutants in the water, such as DDT, which makes microbeads more toxic than they already are.
Except you are vegan, chances are you have had or you may have a fish with microbeads in it, end up on your food plate. If you will not go out of your way to eat a no nutrition value item like plastic, there is no reason we should allow it end up in our bellies. Now you may think, if there is plastic in my fish, I will obviously see it. No, not really. They are micro-plastic and near impossible to see with naked eyes. Apart from seafood, these tiny toxic threats are sometimes contained in lip-gloss and tooth pastes and can leave plastic in between teeth and are later swallowed and embedded into the gullet, stomach wall and intestines.
Although it is not yet known how microbeads behave once in soils as well as after aging and coming into contact with natural organic matter and soil pore-water, I don’t imagine any good coming out of tiny plastics lying dormant in the soil, alongside a growing crop. We do not know the exact effects of having tiny micro plastic balls in the air either, in terms of their ability to absorb airborne pollutants and/or undergo long-range transport and atmospheric transformations (e.g., reactions with hydroxyl radicals) but there is increasing research in this area. However, we can take action on what we do KNOW; which is that microbeads are polluting our waters!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Keep an eye out for these ingredients when you purchase an item:
1. Polyethene (PE) which is the most common microplastic.
2. Polypropylene (PP)
4. Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA)
5. Polythylene Terphthalate (PET)
To guide you, here is a list of products that do NOT contain microbeads and here are a list of items that DO contain microbeads, both lists were graciously compiled by the Beat The Microbead Campaign initiated by the Plastic Soup Foundation & Stichting De Noordzee.
As you may have noticed already, some of the most popular items and brands found in Nigeria are on the list of items that contain microbeads; Clinique, Neutrogena, Aveeno, Olay, Garnier, Clean & Clear and Clerasil.
The good news is that we CAN do without microbeads. In addition to using products that do not contain them, there are more natural exfoliating items, such as coffee beans, sugar, oat meal and baking soda in our kitchens, which are cheaper and just as effective in cleansing, if not more effective. Already, L’Oréal, Johnson and Johnson and Procter and Gamble have announced that they are phasing out the use of microbeads and testing alternatives like sand and apricot seeds.
The US government has also taken positive steps with the Microbeads-Free Waters Act signed by President Obama on Dec. 28, 2015. This bill implements several steps to get microbeads out of our products. Starting with July 2017, it will ban the manufacturing of microbeads. In July 2018, there will be a ban on manufacturing over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads and a ban on the sale of cosmetics containing microbeads.
That’s great news since the bulk of microbead products in Nigeria seem to be imported. I hope NIGERIA can do the same, and clean up our waters by making laws to stop the importation and production of personal care items containing microbeads. In your own little way, you can STOP the mess, by NOT buying items containing microbeads.
A big part of wellness is being aware of the natural environment because it impacts the air we breathe, the nourishment in the food we eat and the quality of water we drink. Please join A Green Path in #BanishingTheBead
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