Microbeads: Why your beauty regime is damaging the environment

Tiny plastic particles in beauty products causing chaos in ecosystems

The battle to ban microbeads – the tiny plastic balls used in face washes and beauty creams – has crossed the Atlantic and is heading for Britain.

While they are banned in some states in the US, a Yorkshire-based company says they are still perfectly legal in Britain, and are steadily causing damage to the environment because they can’t be filtered out by water treatment plants.

According to BigGreen.co.uk, the tiny plastic pieces end up in waterways, where fish end up being poisoned after mistaking them for food. They also carry other pollutants into the food chain.

“These microbeads may be great for cleansing your skin and making you feel younger, but they are a nightmare for the environment,” says BigGreen.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall. “There are natural alternatives available, so why aren’t the beauty care companies using them?”

What are microbeads?

They’re the tiny balls of plastic found in many beauty products, from skin creams, shampoos and even some brands of toothpastes.

Microbeads are used to make your product more abrasive to help with exfoliation and cleansing, often marketed as “age defying” products that make the user look or feel younger.

The problem with microbeads is that they really are tiny – about one millimetre in diameter – and pass straight through the filters at water processing plants. This means they are pumped straight back into watercourses, where accumulations of plastic cause environmental damage. They also absorb other pollutants, which makes them even more deadly.

The US state of Illinois – which borders the environmentally important Great Lakes – was the first to ban them, and several other states have joined them. More states, as well as Canada, are considering their own bans.

Natural alternatives like apricot shells, jojoba beans, and pumice are available.

BigGreen.co.uk ‘s Mark Hall says: “These tiny pieces of plastic build up in their billions in waterways and lakes. We’re only just beginning to realise the damage that they do, and it’s time we acted over here in the UK.”

A ban for Britain?

Yorkshire-based environmentally-aware waste company Big Green is joining calls for more research that could lead to a ban on microbead products in the UK before irreversible damage is done to our environment.

The problem is that a ban may only come as the result of consumer pressure, and a lack of publicity about this issue in the UK means that could take some time to happen, Hall says.

“British consumers are pretty sophisticated when it comes to green issues, and we’re sure that if the damage done by microbeads were more visible there’d be a public outcry,” says Mark.

While natural alternatives are available, manufacturers still use plastic balls because they’re easier and cheaper to produce, and are less abrasive on the skin, meaning that customers use more of the “scientific” product.

BigGreen.co.uk urges customers to look for greener alternatives to microbead products. The company also hopes that the beauty and fashion press picks up on the campaign to put pressure on suppliers to put an end to the scourge of the plastic beads.

“The greener alternatives actually work better, and you’re not smearing little balls of plastic all over your face,” says Mark. “So why are we still using these ridiculous products?”

It all comes down to one simple question, Hall says: “Is your beauty regime really worth killing the planet?”