The presence of micro-beads in exfoliating skin care products causes more damage to the environment than you and I could think of. We consider cosmetics as beauty agents but remain oblivious to its dire impacts to our surroundings. Although many are convinced about the harmful effects of plastic, few know of the recurring use of fragmented plastic in our day to day life. Micro-beads/micro-plastics pollute water bodies as they pass un-channeled into lakes, rivers and oceans. One of the biggest evolving challenges due to this is the large-scale death of aquatic organisms especially those that cannot swim. While the contaminants wash down from cities to oceans, polluting the water, it gathers toxins by absorbing from its surroundings.
Microbeads are tiny plastic spheres made of polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene and are extensively added to toothpaste, body scrubs, and other cosmetic products. Due to its microscopic size (0.1 to 0.5 millimetre) it becomes impossible to net out these elements from the sewage in the purification plants and they, in turn, wash down from household drains and swiftly enter water bodies undeterred. These floating toxins on the surface of the water are then ingested by marine animals which in turn are consumed by humans in the form of food. This process thus poses serious threats not only to aqua and human life but also impacts the entire ecological system.
The Bahamas, an island nation surrounded by pristine blue water, stumbled upon a drastic challenge with massive proportions of plastic waste discharged into its sea. Resting on the edge of North Atlantic gyres, this island nation had to deal with polluted beaches and water bodies overrun by plastic waste. To spreads awareness and uphold feasible measures to treat the polluted sea, the Bahamas hosted the 5 Gyres Youth Action Summit from June 5th to 7th, at Island school Cape Eleuthera. The students of Cape Eleuthera along with students from neighbouring nations were invited to participate in the summit. They were provided with tools and encouraged to proactively tackle the pollution on their island.
Manta & Hi-speed Trawling: Nets are used to collect toxic particles floating over the sea surface at high and low speed. These collected samples from the ocean surface then help researchers studying amounts, sizes and sources of plastic floating in the oceans. These trawlers are a kind of dragnet that fished out the floating micro-beads off the sea surface. However, proper surveys are conducted through visual observation of 60 minutes at the time to spot out as the equipment are limited to capture only a portion of plastic waste.
Estimate of data: The fished out microplastics were evaluated along the shores by the assembled crew and local supporters. This process of evaluation helped the study teams to count and weigh the micro-plastics before submitting the data to iGyre global estimate. The first iGyre global estimate was published on December 2014. The estimated data will determine the volume of plastic waste constituted in the North Atlantic.
Vertical Trawling: In this process the ladder trawler fished out the plastic waste from the depths of the sea. Vertical trawling is used when manta and hi-speed trawler cannot reach the plastic waste that are pushed multiple levels below the ocean surface by waves.
A 13 days Arctic expedition will begin from August 12th, 2016 wherein the participants will conduct first-hand research over the Arctic waters along the Northwest Passage. The Russian ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov, named after academician Sergey Vavilov is a Russian research vessel 117 metres long and 6 metres wide with a speed of 14 knots. This will explore the Arctic waters with research crew and participants. It is confirmed that the August expedition will happen in collaboration with One Ocean and the Vancouver Aquarium to study the abundant distributions of micro-plastics in the remotest of Arctic waters.
Micro-beads in beauty and personal care products will be officially banned in the United States by July next year. Outgoing US President, Barrack Obama, has signed a US Senate-approved bill into law under the ambit of Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 to ban and prohibit the manufacturing of cosmetics and other personal nourishing products like toothpaste and scrubs, etc. that contain micro-beads. This bill gave a constitutional push to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by prohibiting cosmetics that contain plastic microbeads. Moreover, the manufacturing of over-the-counter drugs and sales of over-the-counter drugs that contain micro-beads will be banned ion July 2018 and July 2019 respectively. The Anglo-Dutch multinational consumer goods production company Unilever has consented to censure the use of micro-beads completely as exfoliating agents in hygiene and cosmetics products. Meanwhile, two multinational consumer companies – Johnson & Johnson and The Body Shop – have announced that they have stopped using micro-beads as exfoliants in their products. While some beauty products companies such as Avon, Ali Mac Skincare Ltd, All Natural Soap Co, ARK Skincare, ASDA, and Avon have pledged their non-endorsement of micro-beads.
India too recently sought to ban personal care products that contain microbeads. The National Green Tribunal (NGT), created by Indian Parliament Act to check the expeditious disposal pertaining environmental issues, in its recent application seeking to ban microplastics product has issued a notice to the Ministries of Union Health, environment, and water resources. According to a research report submitted in November last year, the presence of micro-beads in table salt and toothpaste directly impact consumer’s health. It has been scientifically confirmed that these tiny beads when stuck in between tooth and gums, can cause cancer.
It is obvious that banning all products that contain tiny toxins (micro-beads) will be a herculean task. However, to save this earth for our children, and for our children’s children, impossible is not a feasible option for us.