By Julia Lerner
The United Kingdom is instituting a ban on microbeads after scientists declared them a dangerous, ecological hazard.
The ban, which comes after a similar move in the United States in 2015, will be implemented early next year, and has been applauded by scientists. It includes all “microplastics in ‘rinse-off’ cosmetics and personal care products,” according to The Independent. The ban is also lauded as “the strongest in the world” by proponents of the anti-microplastic movement.
Microbeads, also called microplastics, are small pieces of plastic found in health and beauty products. In order to be classified as a microbead, it must be smaller than five millimeters. These tiny plastics have found their way into face scrubs and cleansers, toothpaste, makeup and other cosmetics.
One of the greatest offenders, scientists say, is glitter.
Glitter, including loose craft glitter and glitter found in makeup, “should be considered a similar hazard” to microplastics. Glitter found in leave-on products, like eyeshadow and other similar cosmetics, will not be included in the ban, though some scientists encourage future legislation.
While tiny, the dangers these microplastics present are not insignificant. These small bits of plastic are terrible pollutants, and are posing a serious danger to the environment. According to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, there are an estimated 8 trillion microbeads being washed into the water supply daily — enough plastic to cover over 300 tennis courts every single day.
Fish and other marine animals have been mistaking these plastics for food, and have been documented swallowing them. Now, they’re beginning to show up in our food. In a study conducted by Professor Richard Thompson of the University of Plymouth in the UK, microplastics were discovered in 1 in 3 UK-caught fish.
Ingesting these microplastics can be deadly — some have been linked to “birth defects, cancer, and developmental problems in humans,” according to Sophie Bushwick of Popular Science. “Microbeads don’t just contain pollutants — the plastic can also release BPA and other chemical additives.”
The UK joins a number of countries around the world in legislating the use of microbeads. Countries like Canada, the US, Ireland and the Netherlands have existing legislation to limit the use of microplastics.
For consumers still looking for a glitter-fix, scientists recommend buying products with “synthetic, biodegradable alternatives,” according to The Independent. Companies like Lush have replaced all of their products with synthetic materials, which is “a positive move by the company,” said Senior Pollution Policy Officer at the Marine Conservation Society Dr. Sue Kinsey. “[They] have listened to advice and clearly understand the threat.”
Featured Photo Courtesy of Poojah Ganesh.
Julia Lerner is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.