Microplastics, as the name implies, are tiny particles of broken-down plastic that can also be found in the form of microbeads, commonly used in household cosmetic beauty products. Often unfiltered and unrestricted by precautions, microplastics can easily slip straight into the habitats of our planet’s natural wildlife, likely to be ingested by marine life and lead to devastating side effects.
Studies such as Saido’s Nihon University funded research in 20091 reveal to us that as common plastics begin to photodegrade, their chemical makeup means that they become unstable and can bond with harsher, more persistent chemicals such as dioxins and dioxin-like compounds. Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds mimic vital hormones in regulatory systems and can have adverse effects on the endocrine, reproductive, and metabolic systems2. Due to their size, microbeads are often ingested by wildlife such as fish, larvae, amphibians, birds and mammals as they are confused for small zooplankton; a keystone species in aquatic ecosystems.
Considering the extensive damage microplastics are causing to our environment, it is shocking to learn that they are utilised in many of our household beauty products, intentionally to increase their effectiveness, particularly in toothpastes and dermatology products. Many of these beauty products can easily be swapped for those with biodegradable microbead substitutes, without reducing their quality or effectiveness. When out shopping, it is easy to have a quick look at the packaging labels of the various products, in order to select the most environmentally-friendly option. Although the UK3, USA4, Canada5 and France6] have recently introduced microplastic/microbead bans, this is not worldwide and microplastics are still used in a large number of countries. A quick Google search returns a fantastic comprehensive list of products to use, and those to avoid, in a large range of countries. Check out https://www.beatthemicrobead.org/product-lists/ if you are interested!
As stated at the beginning of the article, microplastics also come from larger plastic products that have broken down over time. This is why it is integral to make those little changes to reduce your plastic use in general, and help lessen its gargantuan impact on the environment. Even plastic advertised to be from recycled or eco-friendly sources can cause unseen damage if processed or disposed of incorrectly - research is key!
The dangers posed by these destructive microplastics is one of the motivating factors that will inspire an upcoming series of cue cards on livelife.green, highlighting t eco-friendly alternatives that savvy consumers can substitute for harmful plastics, as well as other ways that everybody can make a difference a home towards reducing damaging waste.
Katsuhiko Saido, 2009; https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2009/august/plastics-in-oceans-decompose-release-hazardous-chemicals-surprising-new-study-says.html
WHO, 2016; http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dioxins-and-their-effects-on-human-health
UK microbead ban:
US microbead ban:
Canadian microbead ban:
French microbead ban: