Millions of people are unwittingly pouring hundreds of tonnes of tiny
plastic beads down the drain. These can persist in the environment for more
than 100 years and have been found to contaminate a wide variety of fresh
water and marine wild life.
Few consumers realize, that many cosmetic products, such as facial
scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels, contain thousands of micro plastic beads
which have been deliberately added by the manufactures of consumer products
over the past two decades.
Plastic microbeads, which are typically less than a millimetre wide and
are too small to be filtered by sewage treatment plants are able to carry deadly
toxins into the animals that ingest them, including those in the human food chain
such as fish mussels and crabs.
While many people have tried to recycle their plastic waste, cosmetics
companies have at the same time been quietly adding hundreds of cubic metres
of plastic such as polyethylene to products. One estimate suggests that in the
U.S. alone, upto 1200 cubic metres of micro plastic beads are washed down the
drains each year.
Scientists and environmentalists have started lobbying the Industry to
stop using plastic microbeads in exfoliant skin creams and washes (hand wash,
face wash etc.), but with a limited success - relatively small number of firms
have publically agreed to phase them out. Britain, along with the rest of the EU
is being urged to follow the lead of New York State, which last week became
the first place to prohibit the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetic products
after a failure by the personal care companies to agree to an immediate voluntary
The New York state assembly decided to act after the scientists found
the disturbing levels of plastic microbeads in the great lakes of North America.