Those clever little exfoliating balls that float around in your shower gel and body scrub, as well as the teeth-scouring grains in your toothpaste, may be great cosmetically. But there’s a potentially huge environmental cost: the thousands of microbeads added to cosmetics and hygiene products are made from plastic. The non-biodegradable particles, tinier than a pinhead, are designed, once used, to be flushed away with your waste water – and because of their tiny size they end up in aquatic habitats.

As many as 8 trillion microbeads enter aquatic habitats after leaving water treatment plants in the USA each day, a study recently found. The microbeads have been found in most of the oceans and large bodies of water across the world because they pass straight through water purification systems. The video above by LUSH Cosmetics North America explains this in detail.

A global campaign to stop the inclusion of microbeads in consumer products called Beat the Microbead has attracted many large organisations to join in the cause. Locally the International Ocean Institute South Africa (IOI-SA) has added its support. The IOI-SA says it promotes the quick phasing out of plastic microbeads in personal care products. “There are natural alternatives available so there is no excuse for manufacturers to use plastic.”

While the exact impact of the beads is still being researched, the growing concern is that the beads could be mistaken for a food source by Zooplankton and other micro organisms and will then enter the ecosystem. “Not all animals are able to excrete the plastic, so in some species it accumulates internally. The surface of plastics attracts and absorbs persistent organic pollutants found in the marine environment, such as PCBs and DDT, which can then transfer into animal tissue.  There are also toxic chemicals that are added to plastics during the manufacturing process that can pose threats to the marine environment and marine fauna,” says IOI-SA.

The state of California has become the latest to join the movement against microbeads in the USA. Canada is also considering banning the plastics. Beat the Microbead says every person can aid the change by not purchasing cosmetics and hygiene products with polyethylene, polypropylene, polymethyl methacrylate or nylon in them.

Image and video credit: LUSH Cosmetics North America