Microplastics (<5 mm in their longer dimension) have become ubiquitous within our aquatic environments and are understood to be the most abundant type of plastic in the ocean. Microplastics have been found almost everywhere scientists have sampled; from near-shore environments to the open ocean, within sediments of estuaries and deep sea waters and in freshwater or intertidal/coastal ecosystems. Microplastics have been studied globally and the most recent oceanographic modelling predictions estimate that 5.25 trillion plastic pieces, the majority microplastics, are floating in the world’s oceans.
The consequences of microplastic pollution for marine fauna are only just emerging. Microplastics represent a threat to marine life because their small size makes them bioavailable to organisms throughout the food webs. Marine invertebrates, fish, seabirds, and mammals have all been shown to ingest microplastics, often with negative health consequences. Microplastic ingestion can reduce feeding, deplete energy reserves, and decrease ecophysiological function as a result of physical injury, physiological stress, and false satiation. Furthermore, microplastics are susceptible to contamination by waterborne organic pollutants and to the leaching of potentially toxic plastic additives known as ‘‘plasticizers’’. If consumed, microplastics can thereby introduce toxins into the food chain, which can biomagnify to higher trophic levels.
Where do microplastics come from? Once released into the environment, plastics items breakdown though mechanical processes facilitated by sunlight. In addition to the plastic particulates that comes from the breakdown of larger plastics items, microplastics can be released directly into the environment as a direct consequences of our cleaning and beauty routines. From facial and body scrubs to toothpastes, soaps to sprays, you might be surprised to learn that the gritty polishers and sparkly glitters used in a plethora of bathroom products are actually tiny pieces of plastic. Commonly known as microbeads, these tiny pieces of plastic (or microplastics) are designed to wash straight down the drain and invariably flow out to sea because they are too small to be filtered out during sewage treatment.
A recent scientific study has estimated the amount of microplastics which is washed out to the ocean with a single use of facial scrubs containing microbeads and the numbers are….truly alarming. During this study, polyethylene microbeads were extracted from several cosmetics products, and were shown to have a wide size range (mean diameters between 164 and 327 µm). Scientists estimated that between 4594 and 94,500 microbeads can be released in a single use. Yes, you read properly: between 4594 and 94,500 microbeads are released into the ocean every single time you use a scrub containing microbeads!! Once they reach the sea, microbeads are impossible to clean up and add to the growing volume of plastic in the world’s oceans.
There is no valid reason for keep using cosmetic products which contains microplastics; microbeads are a pointless source of plastic pollution, which we should all stop right now. In 2012, Unilever announced it would phase out the use of microbeads in all of its products by 2015. The Body Shop, Johnson & Johnson and Beiersdorf have also agreed to starting phasing plastic out but no end dates have been set. Although the US announced a ban on microbeads in January of this year, and campaigns to do the same are building momentum all around the world, the choices you make today can help to reduce the amount of microplastics which is wash down the drains to our oceans.
As a consumer, you have a great deal of power. By choosing products that are free of microplastics, you will not only help stem the tide of microbeads into our oceans, but you will also be voting with your wallet – sending a clear message to manufacturers that you want to see an end to this pointless pollution.
You should always check the ingredients list of your cosmetic products and avoid by all means all those which contain plastics. You should watch out for (and avoid): all products which contains Polyethylene and Polypropylene. Polyethylene and Polypropylene are the main type of plastic microbeads used in exfoliators. To be on the safe side, also check the product is free from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon and you’re good to go.
For your beauty routine, you can resort to alternatives; for example, you can make an organic and very effective homemade scrub using materials which surely you already have in your home. Not only you will protect the environment, but you will also use a natural product which will benefit your skin and, last but not least, will help you saving money.
You can find countless receipts online, but here we suggest you the one we have already tried, which takes less than 5 minutes to make and works…..brilliantly (give it a try if you do not believe us :D).
Lemon sugar scrub receipt
- 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup coconut oil (almond oil will also work)
- 1 lemon or lemon natural oils
- 1 little glass jar
- Put sugar in a large bowl and set aside.
- Measure out 1/4 cup of coconut oil and place it in a microwave safe bowl. Heat the coconut oil in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or until the oil is melted.
- Pour the melted coconut oil over the sugar and mix to combine.
- Using a zester or small grater, zest the rind of 1 lemon and add it to the sugar- coconut oil mixture. Stir well.
- Then, cut the same lemon you just zested in half and, by using a juicer, juice the lemon. Remove any seeds from the lemon juice and add the juice to the sugar mixture. Stir to combine.
- If the sugar scrub is still too “wet”, add up to 1/2 cup more sugar until desired consistency is reached.
- Then grab a little jar of some sort and pour your new lemon sugar scrub into the jar. All done!
- A small trick for your scrub to look fancy and colourful. Once you have your scrub done, divide it into two equal parts in two separate containers. Then add some colour to one of the containers. You can use a little bit of food colouring for this, just a couple of drops will do. Stir well. Now, make a large funnel out of a piece of paper and add a small amount of the not coloured scrub into the jar. Press the scrub lightly down so it is leveled. Then add a colour layer so that they are about the same height and flatten it. Continue back and forth with as many layers and as thick or thin a layer you would like. Pretty, isn’t it?
What each and every one of us does in our daily life will make the difference. Take responsibility and spread the voice!!
Andrady, A. L. (2011). Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine pollution bulletin 62(8): 1596-1605.
Betts, K., 2008. Why small plastic particles may pose a big problem in the oceans. Environ. Sci. Technol. 42: 8995.
Boerger, C.M., Lattin, G.L., Moore, S.L., Moore, C.J., 2010. Plastic ingestion by planktivorous fishes in the North Pacific central gyre. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 60: 2275–2278.
Browne, M.A., Niven, S.J., Galloway, T.S., Rowland, S.J., Thompson, R.C., 2013. Microplastic moves pollutants and additives to worms, reducing functions linked to health and biodiversity. Curr. Biol. 23: 2388–2392.
Cole, M., Lindeque, P., Fileman, E., Halsband, C., Goodhead, R., et al., 2013. Microplastic ingestion by zooplankton. Environ. Sci. Technol. 47: 6646–6655.
Cole, M., Lindeque, P., Halsband, C., Galloway, T.S., 2011. Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: a review. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 62: 2588–2597.
Desforges, J.P.W., Galbraith, M., Dangerfield, N., Ross, P.S., 2014. Widespread distribution of microplastics in subsurface seawater in the NE Pacific Ocean. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 79: 94–99.
Fendall, L.S., Sewell, M.A., 2009. Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: microplastics in facial cleansers. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 58: 1225–1228.
Free, C. M., Jensen, O. P., Mason, S. A., Eriksen, M., Williamson, N. J., & Boldgiv, B. (2014). High-levels of microplastic pollution in a large, remote, mountain lake. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 85(1): 156-163.
Moore, C. J. (2008). Synthetic polymers in the marine environment: a rapidly increasing, long-term threat. Environ. Res. 108(2): 131-139.
Napper, I. E., Bakir, A., Rowland, S. J., & Thompson, R. C. (2015). Characterisation, quantity and sorptive properties of microplastics extracted from cosmetics. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 99(1): 178-185.