A comprehensive ban on microbeads offers the best chance of protecting marine ecosystems, water quality and natural resources, according to a paper published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Microbeads, which are found in hundreds of products, including body washes, toothpaste, cosmetics and cleaning supplies, are of particular concern because they are designed to be washed down the drain after use. They’re one part of the microplastics problem currently plaguing the world’s oceans, lakes, and rivers. A U.N. report noted the alarming fact that 4,360 tons of microbeads were used in 2012 in Europe alone.
In the Environmental Science and Technology analysis, the researchers estimated that 8 trillion microbeads are being emitted directly into marine habitats every day. This only represents one percent of microbead waste: the other 99% wind up in sludge from sewage plants, which is typically spread on land, where many of the microbeads can wind up in streams and rivers as runoff.
The researchers wrote that while “there are gaps in our understanding of the precise impact of microbeads on aquatic ecosystems, this should not delay action.”
“Microplastics of the same type, size, and shape as microbeads are persistent, impractical to remove, and have negative impacts on aquatic organisms,” they concluded. “The probability of risk from microbead pollution is high while the solution to this problem is simple.”
Read more about microbeads and the movement to ban them here.