With a BSc in Environment, Economics and Ecology, Sarah has long been fascinated with the challenge of balancing human needs and environmental protection.
For most people, the phrase ‘plastic pollution’ evokes images of drifting carrier bags and emaciated seabirds that have starved to death on a diet of plastic junk. But mounting evidence now suggests another, unseen, problem may be posing just as great a threat to marine wildlife and ecosystems: that of microplastic pollution.
As the name suggests, microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic (ranging from around 5 mm in size down to the microscopic) that are almost impossible to clean up once they enter our oceans.
Plastic waste has become a common sight on beaches around the world. Credit: Algalita.
Some microplastics result from the breakdown of larger pieces, but there are other direct sources too – perhaps the most shocking of which are the microbeads found in many personal care and beauty products such as facial exfoliators and body scrubs.
When we use these products, the beads are washed straight down the drain and – because they are too small to filter out during wastewater treatment processes – invariably end up in the sea.
Once there, microbeads can pose real threats to marine life. They become embedded in marine habitats (altering the properties of these environments), and are also eaten by marine fauna (particularly filter feeders such as mussels, although other animals are known to be affected too), causing circulatory and digestive blockages, malnutrition and even starvation.
Once consumed, plastic particles can harm marine wildlife. Credit: The 5Gyres.
But what can consumers do to avoid these plastic-containing products? Until now, the only way to find plastic-free products has been to check through the list of ingredients for clues – a painstaking process given the many different types of plastic on the market.
To help make things easier, Fauna & Flora International has launched the Good Scrub Guide – an easy reference tool to help consumers find plastic-free exfoliators.
Featuring the most common facial exfoliators available on the UK market, the guide offers a clear, non-biased tool to help consumers choose products that do not contain plastic microbeads.
Importantly, through regular updates and correspondence with the brands featured on the list, the Good Scrub Guide will also indicate which brands are taking positive steps toward removing plastic microbeads from their products so that consumers can stay informed along the way.
Visit www.goodscrubguide.org for more information, or download the press release and fact sheets: What is plastic? and Why is it a problem? (PDF).