Many years in our planet’s future, smart historians will look back and question how our generation ever allowed microbeads to exist. Ever.
These non-biodegradable, petrochemical-created tiny beads of usually no more than 2 mm (up to 5 mm) are created from synthetic nasties such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate or polymethyl methacrylate.
The ironically-named skin “care” and beauty giants created microbeads for its face and body scrubs, toothpastes, lip glosses, wrinkle creams and more. One reason is, because microbeads are machine-made to order, they’re deemed smoother than say natural exfoliants like coffee granules, sand, husks or sugar. A subject still out to debate.
A more true driver for why microbeads were created from plastic and not naturally sourced alternatives is that the big players of the beauty industry are beholden to shareholders and profit margins, so cheap ingredients win over common sense every time.
And perversely, the UN Environment Programme estimates that an exfoliating shower gel, as just one example, contains as much microbead plastic inside the bottle as the bottle itself. Yikes!
But that’s the least of it. When these tiny beads travel off our skin into our waterways polluting lakes, rivers and oceans, there they then absorb nasty toxins known as Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPs. These are chemicals that cannot break down through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes, and include pesticides, insecticide, PCBs, solvents, flame retardants, motor oil, pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals, and that also make their way into our waterways. That’s billions of microbeads per day – yes, per day – soaking in that cocktail of poison.
And you know what happens next, right?
The fish and magical marine life that keep our oceans in a state of balance and harmony unwillingly eat them in their billions. Yes, that word again, billions. That chilling list of toxins then become part of fish tissue. And when other sea creatures further up the food chain ingest those fish, the poisonous cycle continues right until it hits your table, your diet and your children’s diet. From sushi, smoked salmon to tinned tuna, this is what you’re serving up for dinner.
In the weirdest twist to this tale yet, from 2017, microbeads are already banned in the US. You know, that country least known for its bold, anti-petrochemical legislation.
Finally, following much later in the footsteps of the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK among others, our New Zealand government came to the party in January of this year when Environment Minister Nick Smith announced a ban of microbeads in “some” of around 100 varieties of personal care products in New Zealand known to contain plastic microbeads.
Yet despite Smith saying that “Under current estimates, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish,” this is a half-hearted ban at best, with “crucial” medical products and leave-on products being exempt from the ban altogether. These leave-on products include deodorant, sunscreen, insect repellent, wrinkle cream, moisturisers, hair spray, baby care products, eyeshadow and mascara. So when is a ban not a ban?
This legislation takes effect under the Waste Minimisation Act as late as July 2018, with companies like Johnson and Johnson, home to products Neutrogena, Aveeno, and Clean and Clear, intimating that it’s more a work in progress than something to which they pledge immediate support.
In great news however, no New Zealand company (including Tailor) produces or uses microbeads. And of course any gorgeous skin loving product you may see in Tailor Skincare’s future, would never compromise on quality or damage our precious planet.
We’d love to know what you think about the microbead ban legislation. Does it go far enough? Have we been greenwashed with half-hearted legislation? Should all products containing these harmful beads be banned? Tell us below, and help us save the ocean’s magical aliens!
Vote in Greenpeace’s online petition to ban all plastic microbead products, here!