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Plastic Microbeads: What are They and How To Avoid Them?

Plastic Microbeads: What are they and how to best avoid them?
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Plastic Microbeads are a serious problem for the oceans. We talk about why in this article. Then we discuss some ways to avoid them.

Plastic Microbeads: What are they and how to best avoid them?
Plastic Microbeads: What are they and how to best avoid them?

Plastic Microbeads

The Oxford Dictionary defines plastic microbeads as any water insoluble, solid plastic particles. They are 5 mm or less in size. Finally they are used to exfoliate or cleanse in rinse off personal care products.

Marine Litter Solutions defines it in this article.

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Plastic Microbeads: Key Points

  • Plastic Microbeads are tiny plastic beads that are sometimes used in cosmetics.
  • The Oxford Dictionary defines plastic microbeads as any water insoluble, solid plastic particles.
  • They do not degrade like other materials and can end up in the oceans.
  • They also can cause disruptions in other parts of the environment.
  • Microplastics and microbeads can be slightly different.

Why are plastic microbeads used in cosmetics and personal care products?

Historically, manufacturers have added plastic microbeads to personal care cleansing products because of their safe and effective exfoliating properties. These help remove dry, dead cells from the surface of the skin as well as help unclog pores. Many consumers value plastic microbeads for their ability to produce clean, smooth skin.

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What is the concern over plastic microbeads?

There is concern that the quantities of plastic litter in our marine environment can harm eco-systems. In particular, sea life can consume microplastic particles that enter the marine environment. Plastic microbeads are one type of plastic that contribute to this problem.

Plastic microbeads from personal care products represent a small contribution to the overall marine litter. A study conducted in 2012 estimated the contribution of European cosmetics. The personal care sector was between 0.1 % and 1.5 % of the total amount to aquatic litter. However, this contribution has reduced between 2012 and 2015 as a result of the industry’s commitments.

What actions has the cosmetics industry taken on plastic microbeads?

Many companies that previously used plastic microbeads are looking to replace them, or have already done so, with alternatives. Including those made from beeswax, rice bran wax, jojoba waxes, starches derived from corn, tapioca and carnauba. Some others include seaweed, silica, clay and other natural compounds.

In October 2015, Cosmetics Europe recommended to its members to discontinue, by 2020, the use of synthetic, solid, plastic particles. Also microbeads used for exfoliating and cleansing, that are non biodegradable in the aquatic environment. This was despite the small role they play in microplastic litter. This built on voluntary initiatives already taken by companies in Cosmetics Europe.

A survey, conducted in 2016, and covering use during 2015, assessed the effectiveness of these industry actions. The survey found a rapid 82% reduction in the use of plastic microbeads for exfoliating and cleansing purposes when comparing use in 2012* with use in 2015.

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Actions for the Cosmetics Industry Continued

New data gathered in 2018 shows that 97.6% of plastic microbeads used for exfoliating and cleansing purposes in wash-off cosmetic and personal care products were phased out between 2012* and 2017.

As part of the industry’s commitment to a more sustainable future, we continue to work with various stakeholders to find real solutions to plastic debris in waterways, for the benefit of our consumers and the oceans we all share.

In the USA the FDA and congress have banned the use of Microbeads in cosmetics. starting in 2015 The Microbead-Free Waters Act was passed. You can read more about it here.

In Australia they’ve been asking companies to no longer use the dangerous materials.

Microplastics and Plastic Microbeads

If you want to learn more about plastics in the oceans keep on reading.

What are microplastics?

The term microplastics refers to any type of tiny, solid plastic particle or fibre found as litter in oceans and other waterways. Micro plastics most often start as larger pieces of plastic debris, such as plastic packaging, cigarette filters, car tires, or synthetic fabrics that break down into tiny pieces over time. These particles and fibres measure 5 millimetres in diameter or less and do not dissolve in water. Micro plastics that come from the breakdown of larger plastic litter are called “secondary micro plastics,”. Particles that are intentionally developed as small plastic particles are “primary microplastic”. Plastic microbeads are a type of primary microplastic.

What is a plastic?

Plastics are a synthetic water insoluble polymer that you can mould. They can also be extruded or physically manipulated into various solid forms which retain their shapes in their applications. Such as use and disposal.

The potential concern is with plastic microbeads that may reach the ocean. You can’t determine whether cosmetic or personal care product contains plastic microbeads just by looking for an ingredient. Ingredients sharing the same name may be used as plastic microbeads in one product or as a liquid in another. Depending on the manufacturing process of the polymer. Polyethylene is an example of such an ingredient. It is in solid or liquid form depending on the use. The names on the label do not mean they are plastic microbeads.

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What is a polymer and does it contribute to Plastic Microbeads litter?

A polymer is a substance, that can be natural or man made, which has a molecular structure consisting entirely of a large number of similar units bonded together. Polymers come in many forms, including solids, liquids and waxes. The same polymer of the same chemistry, may be used as a liquid in one product and a solid in another.

Plastics are an example of solid, man made materials consisting of polymers. While all plastics are polymers, not all polymers are plastics. The vast majority of polymer ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products are not plastics. Furthermore, these polymer ingredients are in liquid or other form that cannot become microplastic marine litter.

What are the sources of microplastic litter?

Studies have shown the main sources of microplastic marine litter to include the breakdown of plastic packaging. Things such as bags and bottles, tire dust washed from roadways, plastic pellets used in manufacturing, and synthetics from textiles. Perhaps surprisingly though, the largest contributor to microplastic litter is car tires. Ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products are among the smallest contributors to aquatic pollution.

A number of studies have identified different sources of marine litter and their relative contributions. Moreover, we can remove a very significant proportion of microplastic litter from water with wastewater treatment plants. In studies conducted in Europe and the U.S., treatment facilities were able to remove 99 percent of microplastic particles.

Plastic Microbeads: Is microplastic harmful to marine life or to humans?

There is no peer-reviewed research showing that microplastic litter harms fish or other aquatic life at environmentally relevant levels. (“Peer review” is a scientific validation process in which studies are reviewed and critiqued by fellow scientists.) In addition, a report on plastic litter by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), found no evidence to conclude that microplastics pose a threat to humans.

One proposed theory is that microplastic particles and fibres act as a means of transport for substances called persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the environment, leading to an increase in exposure of aquatic and marine life to toxic pollutants. However, a number of independent studies have found that microplastic does not increase the exposure of wildlife to these attached toxins. They also found that laboratory studies reporting concern about exposure of marine life used unrealistically high levels of microplastic, producing results that do not reflect what actually occurs in the environment.

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What is the cosmetics and care products industry doing to combat microplastic marine litter?

As an environmentally responsible industry our sector has taken voluntary action to remove plastic microbeads from wash off cosmetics products.

A survey, conducted in 2016, and covering use during 2015, assessed the effectiveness of these industry voluntary actions. The survey found a rapid and substantial 82% reduction in the use of plastic microbeads for exfoliating and cleansing purposes in wash-off cosmetic and personal care products, when comparing use in 2012* with use in 2015.

Combating Plastic Microbeads Continued

The industry continues to work with various stakeholders to better understand and find ways to reduce plastic debris in oceans and waterways.

Any action to tackle plastic marine litter must address the leading sources of plastic litter both large and small, if is to be effective. Especially the large plastic litter that forms massive “litter” islands in oceans. This material harms wildlife that ingest or become entangled in it, as well as ultimately breaking down into microplastic litter.

Finally, answers to this issue must reach well beyond Europe as this is a global issue, which requires all stakeholder across the globe to come together to find solutions based on science and evidence.

Polymers

If you want to learn more about polymers, click on the link view more.

A “polymer” is a large molecule made up of repeating sequences of smaller molecules. Polymers are essential for life. Thousands of different polymers exist in nature – including in our own bodies, e.g. proteins, sugars, fats, carbohydrates, things we eat on a daily basis. Many other polymers have been developed by humankind to perform a wide variety of functions that are central to modern living.

Polymers come in many forms, including solids, liquids and waxes. In fact, the same polymer may be a liquid in one product and a solid in another. Plastics are an example of solid, man made materials made from a combination of different polymers. But while all plastics are polymers, not all polymers are plastic. The vast majority of polymer ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products, for example, are not plastic but are in liquid or other form.

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Polymers in nature

The human body contains many natural polymers. Even DNA and proteins that determine our genetic makeup are polymers. The body contains 100,000 different polymer based proteins. Protein is a main component of skin, organs, muscles, hair and fingernails. The most common protein in your body, collagen, is for support and structure. Another polymer important in the skin is hyaluronic acid, which is the main molecule that provides structural support and also helps lubricate our joints.

Cellulose, another natural polymer, is the main structural component of plants. Cellulose is the most abundant organic compound on Earth and its purest natural form is cotton. The cellulose in vegetables and grains is the fibre in our foods. Chitin, a “polysaccharide” polymer similar to cellulose, is the fundamental substance in the exoskeletons of crustaceans, insects and spiders.

Other natural polymers that we eat a lot of are proteins; protein is an essential nutrient for health. Meat carries a lot of protein; nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds contain some; and gelatin is a water soluble protein. Protein also forms some of the materials humans wear: leather, silk and wool.

Polymers in medicine

Polymers are in scores of industries for countless beneficial purposes, but no advances in polymer science are more striking than those in modern medicine. Medical applications range from important day to day products such as latex gloves, bandages and tubing, to applications as advanced as self-tying sutures, implantable medical devices and artificial joints.

Advances in biodegradable polymers have created biomedical “scaffolds”. These support tissue growth and then degrade slowly once implanted in the body.

Polymers in personal care and cosmetics

The addition of polymers has led to better performance for many personal care and cosmetic products, providing benefits not available before, such as water resistance or “sweat proof” characteristics and other long-lasting properties. A broad spectrum of natural, organic and synthetic polymers is used, often in very low levels, in a wide range of cosmetic and personal care products to serve a variety of functions, such as thickening, emulsifying (keeping ingredients mixed together), creating protective films or barriers and making products feel either “drier” or more moist, smoother or more pleasant in use.

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Microbead Plastics: Final Takeaways

While plastic microbeads are a big problem for our oceans they aren’t in use in as many cosmetics anymore. Some nations have already taken steps to eliminate them entirely. Many companies have followed suit and found viable alternatives to microbead plastics.

At Capulet Soaps we don’t use any harsh chemicals or microbead plastics. We don’t use plastics at all. All of our ingredients are 100% natural and harvested directly from the Earth.

Pick up a bar today:

Plastic Microbeads: Key Takeaways

  • Plastic Microbeads are tiny plastic beads that are sometimes in use in cosmetics.
  • The Oxford Dictionary defines plastic microbeads as any water insoluble, solid plastic particles.
  • They do not degrade like other materials and can end up in the oceans.
  • They also can cause disruptions in other parts of the environment.
  • Microplastics and microbeads can be slightly different.

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