If you have never heard of microbeads, you are probably not alone. Although they became widely used about a decade ago, microbeads have long escaped the eyes of the public. After all, with a diameter of 0.01mm, microbeads are virtually invisible to the naked eye. Yet these tiny beads are causing more destruction to our environment than large plastic bags.
Microbeads are tiny plastic spheres, which are typically made of polyethylene or other petrochemical plastics. They are used in cosmetic and household products such as creams, toothpaste, shower gels and make-up, acting as ball-bearings to give the products smoother textures. While they may seem relatively harmless, microbeads are devastating to marine life. A single drop of shower gel can contain hundreds of thousands of microbeads, which get washed down the drain. Because they are so small, microbeads are rarely caught by the water filtering systems and therefore find their way into oceans, lakes and other water ways. There, they are mistaken for food by fish, plankton, and other marine life. Once ingested, microbeads penetrate the tissues of wild life, doing more harm than larger plastic items. However, it gets worse. The plastic microbeads absorb toxins present in water. When marine creatures consume them, they are essentially absorbing poison. When we eat these contaminated fish, we too ingest toxins.
Because of the clear threats posed by microbeads, many countries are contemplating banning them from household products and cosmetics. Companies would then be forced to use more natural, and therefore greener, alternatives.