Plastic microbeads are used in many personal care products such as facial scrubs, body washes, toothpaste and cosmetics. They are washed down the drain and because wastewater treatment plants are unable to filter the tiny plastic microbeads out of the wastewater they end up in the ocean. Once in the ocean they absorb persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (DDT, dioxins, PCBs) that have been found to be concentrated up to one million times more on the surface of the plastic than in the surrounding sea water (Mato et al 2001). These chemicals bioaccumulate up through the food chain and are endocrine disruptors which cause havoc to the endocrine systems of fish, reptiles, birds and mammals (CHEM Trust report, 2008).
Plastic microbeads
click on photos to enlarge

How can you tell if plastic microbeads are in your product?
On the back of the product under "Drug Facts, Inactive Ingredients" the word polyethylene will be listed as an inactive ingredient (click on middle photo). The microbeads used in personal care products are mainly made of polyethylene (PE), but can be also be made of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon. Plastic microbeads are really tiny particles of plastic usually smaller than 2 millimeters. On average, a tube of exfolient contains about 350,000 plastic microbeads which go down the drain, past wastewater treatment filters and out to the ocean!

Plastic microbeads are not just added to personal care products for exfoliating and cleansing, they are used purely for decoration in toothpaste. They are also used as bulking agents and are used in non-rinse products such as sunscreen, make-up, bubble bath and wrinkle cream.

B.E.A.C.H. has done a survey of plastic in personal care products at 5 stores in Honolulu. Click on the link below for results.
Personal Care Product survey

Microplastic found overwhelming our oceans, KITV4 News, Friday 24th April, 2015
B.E.A.C.H. co-founder, Suzanne Frazer is interviewed by KITV4 Lara Yamada about plastic microbeads in personal care products

Watch the funny, but serious animated movie about plastic microbeads right here

There is an international movement to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products. The Beat the Microbead website is entirely devoted to the latest information and resources about plastic microbeads. B.E.A.C.H. is one of the NGO's listed on their website that is supporting microbead bans. One of the things individuals can do is buy products from companies that do not have plastic microbeads in their products and tell family and friends to do the same.


Coral Photograph Credit to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce and Dr. James P. McVey. Dolphins, Japanese Angelfish, Green turtle, and Laysan Albatross photos by James Watt. Humpback whale photo by James Mobeley

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