Canada-USA Banning Polyethylene-Microbeads are, as the name says it, small beads. They are most frequently made of polyethylene but can be created from other petrochemical plastics. You’ll typically find them in cosmetic products. If you’ve used any exfoliating cosmetics or toothpaste, then the odds are you’ve been using microbeads.
Polyethylene-Microbeads are used because their small size and roundness result in a silky texture and spreadability. Smoothness and roundness can provide lubrication and overall create a pleasant, cleansing sensation. Most such Polyethylene-Microbeads vary in size from 10 micrometres (0.00039 in) to 1 millimetre (0.039 in).
They’re so small they are easily washed down the drain, can pass unfiltered through the sewage treatment plants and make their way into rivers and canals, where they do massive damage to the environment.
The problem is often even bigger than with “regular” plastic Polyethylene-Microbeads, because the beads can absorb and concentrate other pollutants, like hydrocarbons or pesticides. Fish and other wildlife can accidentally eat them, with devastating results.
“While the Polyethylene-Microbeads may not seem scary, these tiny plastic beads can have a devastating impact on fish, wildlife, and humans,” Kristy Meyer, Ohio Environmental Council managing director of natural resources, said.
The US was surprisingly quick to react to this issue – environmental national measures are much rarer than state or local measures, but the US government decided through the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 that Polyethylene-Microbeads will be phased out by 2017.
Now, Canada will also step in. Microbeads have been detected in alarming quantities in the Great Lakes, and this affects both countries.
Canada said that it cannot afford to wait for initiative from the industry alone, and it will prohibit the manufacture, import, sale, or offer for sale of toiletries that contain plastic microbeads, both inside and outside of cosmetics. No official timeline has been announced.
Microbeads, which are often labelled simply as “PE”, “PP” or “PMMA” in the product ingredients, are now found in more than 100 toiletries and cosmetics. The big companies produce them, the big supermarket chains are distributing them – without warning, without clear labels. Richard Thompson, professor of marine biology at Plymouth University is leading the charge against these pollutants.
“These small particles, or microplastics, may produce a different sort of problem than larger fragments of plastic debris. We know that a range of organisms will eat these microplastics and the prevalence in populations of some species may reach 80 per cent,” Professor Thompson said. Microplastic beads may also lead to the transfer of chemical contaminants into the animals that ingest the plastic.
This is in addition to the physical damage done by the plastic itself,” he said. “Our work, for instance, has shown that mussels will retain ingested plastic particles for more than 48 days. Hence, there is potential for harm from both the physical presence of the plastic and any contaminants that may be transported with it,” he said.
Professor Ian Boyd of Brunel University is also studying the effects of this type of pollution, and his results are similar to those of Professor Thompson. “There’s growing concern about microplastics and especially these beads. It’s well known that as these beads get smaller, their surface area gets bigger in relation to their volume, which makes it easier for other substances to stick to them,” Professor Boyd said.
Worldwide, the Netherlands has already announced plans to become microbead-free by the end of the year, but most countries in Europe are still discussing how to address the issue. No such official announcement has emerged from Asia.
Plastic pollution remains a huge issue and tackling microbeads, while necessary, is still just a small step. The Canadian National Academy of Sciences found more than 90 percent of all sea birds with pieces of plastic in their guts, and the situation is only getting worse in time. Such bans and state interventions are much needed.
You probably don’t know this, but many cosmetic products (including tooth paste and detergents) contain thousands of plastic microbeads deliberately added by producers in the past decades. These plastic microbeads are less than 1 millimeter wide, and therefore too small to be filtered out by sewage treating plants, thus ending up in the oceans. They carry with them many toxins which can easily contaminate and even kill animals such as fish, mussels and crabs, scientists said.
The thing is, while many people and organizations are trying to reduce the amount of plastics which end up in the oceans, these microbeads go unheard and unseen, causing similar damage to the wildlife environment and posing huge threats to human health.
Recently, the State of New York became the first place to ban the use of plastic micropellets in cosmetic products after a failure by the vast majority of personal-care companies to agree to an immediate voluntary ban – yeah, companies often tend to avoid imposing bans on themselves. Great Britain and the European Union are also already discussing implementing this kind of ban.
“There is no reason for these microplastics in cosmetic products and I think they should be phased out. If they are not taken out voluntarily, then there should be legislation to ban their use,” said Graham Stringer MP, a member of the Commons committee.
Nature is beautiful and the beauty is abundant. However, there are many human interventions in these and such things that have made it a tad difficult for the animals and birds to live in the world. There are increasing reports of their deaths due to the careless behavior of humans.
Recently, 29 sperm whales were found dead on the coast of Germany with their stomach full of plastic waste. This should come across as a very strong sign that we ought to slow it down and we ought to stop making oceans the dumping grounds for our garbage.
Here is the sperm-whale story.