Pages Menu

Posted on Feb 23, 2015 in Blog, General News, Waste, Water

Plastics and Microbeads – an environmental nightmare


plastic bottles by paul-simpson.orgIt seems as though plastic has been part of all our lives forever, but in reality, plastic has only been used regularly in consumer items since the 1960s.  In the past 50 years, we have gone from zero to 32 million tonnes of plastic waste produced every year.


Scarily, every bit of plastic produced is in existence today since it takes 200 years for plastic to decompose.  In America, only 9% of plastic is recovered for recycling.  In Ireland, we don’t know how much is recycled or how much is burned as we only declare how much plastic is ‘recovered’.  Recovery refers to material that is recycled or burned in Waste to Energy plants, ie., incinerators.


Much of this plastic has been washed into the oceans and waterways all over the world.  As you may have read, there is nearly 9 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the oceans each year.

bird eating plastic

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a ring of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean which extends over thousands of miles.  Fish, birds and other wildlife and micro-organisms have been tragically affected by the plastics floating around.  Animals eat small bits of plastic, which is toxic, mistaking them for plankton and other micro-organisms.


I recently went in search for some facial scrub for my teenage son and found that every item I saw in the local pharmacy contained polyethylene, or as the advertisers proclaim, the microbead.  In the past, these scrubs contained shredded apricot pits or coconut fibres to provide the abrasion to attack spots.  However,  industry have substituted tiny plastic beads.


These beads have been found throughout the world’s waterways from the oceans to the Great Lakes in the US.  These beads are not captured in the filters at sewerage treatment plants and continue unhampered into our water.  Like other bits of plastic, fish and birds are eating these plastic beads, thus introducing plastic into our food chain.


Environmentalist have alerted industry and governments about the dangers of the plastic microbead and the message has resonance.  Some industries have started to change their manufacturing process to take these plastic beads out and some US States have banned the sale of products containing plastic microbeads (New York, Illinois, and Indiana have all taken action and the federal government is looking to take action as well).


So, the next time you go off shopping to buy facial scrub, toothpaste or other cosmetics, be aware of the presence of polyethylene, AKA, the dreaded microbead.  Also, join the campaign against the plastic microbead….”beat the bead”. You can find out which products contain and don’t contain plastic microbead here.