A ban on microbeads found in toothpastes, face scrubs and shower gels came into effect on January 9th in the United Kingdom, following the action taken by US in 2015.
What are microbeads?
Microbeads are small plastic balls that can be found in exfoliating facial scrubs, shower gels and toothpaste, among other products. They are part of a larger class of microplastics, or pieces of plastic less than five millimeters, or 0.2 inch, long. Roughly the size of a grain of rice.
Microplastics exist elsewhere, too. They can be found in chewing gum, industrial cleaning products, synthetic clothing fibers and tires.
Why are they in cosmetics?
Manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have advertised the exfoliating powers of microbeads, particularly in face and body scrubs.
Plastic microbeads are used in some cosmetic and personal care products to help clean the skin by exfoliation and to remove stains and plaque from teeth. Exfoliation removes dirt and helps to unclog pores. Dead skin cells are loosened and removed to leave a surface layer composed of fresh, younger cells. This leaves the skin feeling soft, smooth and looking brighter.
Why it’s banned?
About eight million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year, according to a 2015 report by the journal Science. While microbeads represent only a small percentage of those plastics, there is growing concern about their presence in oceans, lakes and rivers.
Microbeads that wash down drains cannot be filtered out by many wastewater treatment plants, meaning that tiny plastics slip easily into waterways. Fish and other marine animals often eat them, introducing potentially toxic substances into the food chain.
A single shower can flush as many as 100,000 microbeads, according to a 2016 report by the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons in Britain.
USA Today reported that the move prevents manufacturers of cosmetics and personal-care items from adding the small pieces of plastic to their products. They often end up in the ocean after being washed down the drain, damaging marine plant and animal life.