After you’ve showered or brushed your teeth, you might have been in contact with quite a lot of microplastic and added to the plastic pollution problem! Many might be wondering what the hell I am talking about. Well, very small plastic beads and fragments are used as abrading mediums or simply as fillers in many cosmetics. Without a big chunk of the consumer being aware of that. Most of these particles are so small, that they are only seeable through a microscope.
Nevertheless, they pose a huge threat to the environment, the fauna, and us humans. Microplastics found access to our food chain and ironically we humans are eating somehow our own trash. They’ve been proven to accumulate in many different species, such as mussels and lobsters. Day by day, tons of plastic waste finds its way into rivers, lakes and ends up in the oceans. Due to the natural factors such as wind, saltwater, and the sun, the plastic pieces gradually break down into smaller fragments. Important o know here: plastic never really biodegrades! Plastic isn’t a natural substance on our planet and nature didn’t have enough time to adapt to this new material. As far as we know, there are no animals or bacteria being capable of decomposing it.
Some of us might think, it’s actually a good thing, that plastic keeps breaking down into smaller pieces. Thus it is out of sight – for us humans as well as for the animals living in the oceans. Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth. Plastic has the particular feature that toxic substances accumulate on the surface of the fragments. The smaller they are, the bigger is its surface area compared to its size. There are many fish, birds and small invertebrates that feed on even smaller marine life that reassembles these small plastic pellets.
They simply think it’s food and consume the plastic pieces with all its bound toxins. Plasticisers, flame retardants, mercury, DDT, and UV protection agents to name a few. The smaller fish will then be eaten by bigger fish and so on. You get the picture. Eventually, the toxins are passed on all along the food chain until they reach the apex predators. And who stands at the end of all food chains? The never satisfied and most aggressive animal of them all: homo sapiens.
We catch fish to consume it and cover our need for animal protein. The most valuable ones are often predatory fish – the higher up in the food chain the higher their prize. Especially in Europe, Asia, and northern America, the demand for red, succulent flesh like one of tunas or swordfishes is huge. The largest individuals will also be the ones that have consumed the most fish and thus they have accumulated the most toxins. Some of these toxins will pass on to the ones that consume the fish. We are literally eating our own trash and poisoning ourselves…
In addition, many seabirds, such as albatrosses, mistake plastic fragments for food and even pass it on to their young, as several studies have shown. This is leading to evergrowing numbers of dead birds, that have died due to the plastic in their stomachs. These birds starve to death with a full belly.
Microplastics can be found in cosmetics, such as Peelings, shower gels, and toothpaste. Yes, you’ve heard right! Microplastics are added to increase their “cleaning power” or increase their weight. Some of these products might even advertise their “relation to nature” and might have some misleading logos on their packaging. So, don’t let them fool you. Do yourself and the planet a favor and take a closer look.
In the European Union for example, it is currently NOT OBLIGATORY to state whether plastic products have been used to create the product or not. Most of the times you’ll find detailed information on the producer website, but even then it’s most of the times hard to find more information on the used ingredients. In some cases, the amount of plastic used can be as high as 10%, so if you have s shower gel containing 250 ml, it also contains 25 grams of plastic!
Polyethylene and Polypropylene are among the most commonly used plastics. But there are others like Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) or Nylon. Nowadays there are biodegradable plastics available, but far more expensive than the common ones and therefore they are not really a solution (yet). We have to start right from the beginning and already try to prevent as much plastic waste as possible.
Tell your friends, your family and everybody at work about it! It’s not some ecological nonsense talk by green activists, it is a great danger to the health of our oceans. Our oceans balance our whole planet and provide millions with food. By adding more and more plastics to the ocean we will slowly lose our biodiversity and the microplastics and toxic substances will eventually come back to us humans. And no one exactly knows what effects that will have on our bodies.
Let me again summarize this: There IS already a huge amount of plastic waste in our oceans! Lots of it floating around in ocean gyres, the most famous of these the great pacific garbage patch. Slowly, very slowly the plastic pieces break into smaller pieces until they are no longer visible to our eyes. Having many companies that add microplastics to their cosmetic products, we are worsening the problem. These small particles cannot be filtered out and after you brushed your teeth with let’s say Elmex (they used microplastics in their toothpaste until the beginning of 2016) the tiny plastic particles flush down the drain and enter the sewage system. From here they might end up in a river and finally find their way into our oceans.
It’s about making choices and trying to change what you as an individual can. And pass on the word, so that more people do so.
Please boycott the brands and products that use microplastic in their products. Maybe write a letter stating your concern or sign a petition.
And yes, sometimes it’s about the small things in life. Sure, if I forgot my bag at home and I am standing in the supermarket thinking if I should take a bag, I simply won’t take it! I am just going to use my hands and carry it home! Reduce your footprint as much as you can and things like avoiding plastic bags or proper waste separation at home are easy to do!
Check out this link to find a list by the German organization BUND – it shows cosmetic products that contain microplastics. You might the one or other product you have been using too. Time for a change!
Use your “Search” function of your browser of choice and type in the brands and products you are usually using. If you find them on this list, it means they are containing microplastics and you should switch to a more environment-friendly alternative.
Useful links and further information:
Find some statements from national as well as international companies on this site: www.beatthemicrobread.org. They also offer good information on the problem and provide links to read further. Check out the smartphone app, too!
Take five minutes and watch this – remember: Plastic bags are not native to the oceans!
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Tom Vierus is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and marine biologist based in Suva, Fiji Islands. This blog is dedicated to his assignments and to sharing some behind-the-scenes footage.