How far can we go just to make ourselves look good? Perhaps far enough to poison ourselves by also poisoning our food from the oceans.
The tiny plastic pellets, more popularly termed as microbeads, added in facial scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels are found to be harmful to the Earth's water supply and marine life in the oceans, prompting environmentalists and state officials to gradually phase out cosmetic products containing microbeads in the market.
Measuring about less than one millimeter in diameter, the microbeads serve as gentler substitute for pumice or more abrasive ingredient in exfoliating the skin. Quickly, they became a popular trend among manufacturing giants such as Johnson and Johnson, Unilever and Procter & Gamble and luxurious cosmetic brands such as L'Oreal.
However, since the beads are so small, they could not be sifted by the treatment plants and hence they go straight into the lakes and seas. These micro pellets are non-biodegradable as they are mostly made from plastics such as nylon, polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and thousands of them are being washed down inadvertently by humans every year.
"As plastics fragment into smaller pieces, they concentrate toxins. Microbeads are highly potent concentrators, feeding toxins into plankton at the bottom of the food web," explained Callum Roberts, a professor at the University of York. "These chemicals then bio-magnify up the food web and it ends up meaning the top predators have the highest concentration of this stuff, and the top predators are precisely the things we like to eat, like tuna and swordfish. It really is a case of what goes around comes around."
In the U.S., five states namely Illinois, New York, Minnesota, Ohio and California have already heeded the call to arms in phasing out products with microbeads and are already in the works of proposing legislation and coming up with bills banning the use of these pellets. New York was first to step up, and has lately declared a ban in the whole state.
Meanwhile, officials in the United Kingdom are mulling over necessary measures on how to address the looming problem about the micro pellets.
In 2012, staunch anti-microbead non-profit organizations Plastic Soup Foundation and North Sea Foundation launched the Beat the Microbead campaign to urge manufacturers to eliminate microbeads in their products. The campaign has even conceived a smartphone app that allows consumers to scan the barcodes of the products to see if they are free of the dangerous pellets.