|Small plastic debris visible from the surface of the water. NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program|
Good news everyone! Unilever, the corporate giant that produces Dove, Axe, Vasiline, St. Ives, and more, has recently reported that it plans to phase out the use of plastic micro beads in all its care products by 2015. The global company's decision to discontinue use of plastic micro beads is an environmental response, stating "the issue of plastics particles in the ocean is an important issue."
Currently, many exfoliating personal care products contain plastic micro beads as an economical alternative to other exfoliating materials. After use, these micro beads are washed down the drain. In an interview with Plastic News, Marcus Eriksen explains, "the beads — about a third of a millimeter — float and look like fish food and fish eggs, which makes them nearly impossible to clean out of the water once they slip through the wastewater process."
Microplastics are defined as being plastic debris measuring 5mm or smaller. In an article by CNN International discussing plastics micro beads, scientists looked at the microplastic retention of marine invertebrates, as well as the ability for microplastics to attract chemical contaminants. Although it has yet to be shown if microplastics are inherently dangerous when eaten, aside from giving a false sense of sated appetite and possible blockage of the digestive tract; it is clearly known that they are good at collecting chemical contaminants on their surface, which can be harmful when ingested.
We don't yet know how detrimental microplastics are to the health of marine animals, or those that prey upon them. What we do know is that they are being ingested. A study by marine biologist Richard Thompson revealed that mussels can retain microplastics for up to 48 days (CNN). Another study, reported upon by The Guardian, found that out of 504 fish sampled from off the south-west coast of England, more than one third had recently ingested microplastic.
The good news is that we are moving in the right direction. With additional pressure, more personal care product companies will discontinue use of plastic micro beads.
Unilever's Microplastic Press Release
For more information about microplastics and their effect on the marine environment, please go to: