The problem with plastics
MCS and International Coastal Clean Up surveys have shown year after year that plastics make up the majority of debris found on beaches, both in the UK and many other countries around the world. In the Southern hemisphere, half of all debris found on remote island beaches can be made of plastic.
Our ‘throw-away’ consumer culture means that a growing number of unwanted plastic items are discarded into our seas and onto our beaches every year, posing a threat to both ourselves and wildlife. A recent study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that there were 46,000 pieces of plastic litter per square mile.
Plastics are extremely durable, lightweight, cheap and versatile – features which mean that they have replaced many traditional materials such as metal, glass and wood. Unfortunately these features have also made them the most pervasive, persistent and hazardous form of litter in the marine environment.
Floating debris can also be transported substantial distances by wind and currents, resulting in the deposition of items from many different countries on beaches around the world. Litter can travel thousands of miles around the world’s oceans. In 1992 twenty containers full of plastic ducks and other toys were lost overboard from a ship travelling from China to Seattle. By 1994 some of the toys had been tracked to Alaska, others reached Iceland in 2000. The toys have now been sighted in the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans
Scrubs and peels put plastics in the sea
Microplastics in our beauty products = microplastics in our sea
It seems unbelievable, but it’s true: many personal care products like scrubs and peels now contain plastic particles. So, every time we exfoliate or peel off those dead cells, we may be doing our bodies some good, but we’re giving our seas anything but a make-over. As the products are rinsed off, they go down the drain and that means we are flushing plastic into our seas where it contributes to the ‘plastic soup’ problem.
Beating the Bead
The Beat the Microbead campaign, of which MCS is a member, is asking the manufacturers of these care products to replace all plastic particles with environmentally friendly alternatives, such as anise seeds, sand, salt or coconut. These are materials that were used before plastic particles.
Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Litter Policy Officer, says: “It’s incredible how many everyday products contain micro plastic beads. These find their way through our sewers and into our seas where they are easily eaten by all sorts of marine animals. Help us stop the practice of putting these microplastics in products by signing the petition and checking out products at home. This App and website is a great resource for those who want to have plastic free products. The micro plastics in these products are so small that our sewage works cannot deal with them, so if used they are essentially washed straight out to sea”.
Until they take notice, it is important that we do not use care products with plastics. You too can help to end the plastic soup in the ocean. Check the list of ingredients on the label. A range of solid microplastics are found within cosmetics and personal care products, with the most common being:
– Polyethylene / Polythene (PE)
– Polypropylene (PP)
– Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
– Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
Get all the details by reading our statement on microplastics we’ve put together.
Are there microplastics in your scrub?
In October 2013 an international version of the ‘Beat the Microbead’ App was launched, which previously had only been available to Dutch consumers.
The App works by scanning the barcode of products and telling the shopper whether or not the product contains plastic microbeads. Products are divided into the categories Red, Orange and Green. Red: the product contains microbeads; Orange: the product contains microbeads but the manufacturer has pledged to stop using microbeads in the near future; Green, the product does not contain microbeads.
Download the App at www.beatthemicrobead.org.
Similarly, Fauna & Flora International have also launched the Good Scrub Guide which lists products that do not contain plastic microbeads and indicates which brands are taking positive steps toward removing plastic microbeads from their products.
N.B. the App and the Good Scrub Guide are still in development and only a small number of products are listed.
You can help develop these guides. Please use our online form to report any products containing microplastics. We will pass on this information so the App and guide can be improved