Microbeads have been in the news recently. They are minute particles of plastic (technically anything less than 5mm in size) put into some cosmetic exfoliating products and toothpastes to act as an abrasive. Because it has been agreed that they harm marine life because they find their way into our oceans it has been agreed that they should be banned (by next year in the US and UK).
This issue has been raised by Greenpeace which at the time of writing paints a “gross” picture of what could be unknowingly lurking in products we use everyday and illustrates this with a photo of some speckled toothpaste being squeezed onto a toothbrush [right].
This topic was brought to my attention when a Greenpeace spokesperson (Ariana Densham) and a professor of something or other spoke for part of a BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show (24th August I believe). I was actually disappointed with the segment because they each spoke their pieces, basically agreeing with each other, the show then went to a few minutes of music, and returned to take some phone calls from listeners, by which time the ‘experts’ had left the studio and therefore couldn’t respond to any questions/points raised.
During their pieces though they did highlight a few points including:
- There are plenty of natural exfoliants, including apricot seeds
- The problem with microbeads is that they pass through sewage filtration systems (and out into the ocean)
- There are 1000 plastic particles per shower when the shower gel uses these microbeads
- We don’t know if plastic ever full degrades
This final problem is my key issue. As far as I can tell all other plastic will one day have the same effect; all plastic gradually breaks down in time into smaller and smaller pieces and particles until one day, it too will be dissimilar to those pesky microbeads. And seemingly to illustrate this this missed point the Greenpeace photo has in it the plastic toothrush onto which the offensive toothpaste is being applied to. In some cases it might perhaps take some thousands of years for a plastic item to break down into pieces like microbeads, but that, in my opinion shouldn’t be an acceptable excuse, but instead an equally valid concern to be addressed.
Have you ever un-earthed a plastic bag or plastic tray or bottle that has been buried in your garden for many years? I have. Bags will generally be pretty degraded but I have unearthed plastic bottles, tubs, old seed trays, plant pots and a plastic watering can that have been there for years, but still in sound condition – this illustrates how long these materials will survive when being carelessly discarded or intentionally sent to land fill. Some of these things we don’t want to degrade too quickly; from food tubs which shouldn’t degrade while they still contain edible food, and you wouldn’t want your watering can’s handle to drop off, or plastic guttering to spring a leak. Lots of plastics can be recycled, yes, but not indefinitely; one day everything that has been made will one day end up being discarded. This is why I think the use of any and all plastics should be more carefully considered or alternatives be sought.