Tiny particles of plastic have been added to possibly thousands of personal care products sold around the world. These microbeads, hardly visible to the naked eye, flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out microbeads and that is the main reason why, ultimately, they contribute to the Plastic Soup swirling around the world’s oceans. Sea creatures absorb or eat microbeads. These microbeads are passed along the marine food chain. Since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, it is likely that we are also absorbing microbeads from the food we eat. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove.
Positive action on behalf of manufacturers has meant that more and more of these microbeads are being removed from personal care products and replaced by naturally biodegradable alternatives. It is still a far cry to say that all personal care products are free from plastic microbeads though.
Two Dutch NGOs - the North Sea Foundation and the Plastic Soup Foundation - launched a smartphone App in 2012 as part of their Beat the Microbead campaign.
The App allows consumers in the Netherlands to scan personal care products to check for the presence of plastic microbeads.
In the summer of 2013, UNEP and the Environment and UK based NGO Fauna & Flora International partnered with these Foundations to further develop the App for international use.
Congratulations - you have already taken the first step by downloading the App! Next, select your country of choice and then scan the product barcode with your smartphone. The App will read the bar code, and indicate - using colour coding - whether microbeads are present in the product:
Red: This product contains microbeads;
Orange: This product still contains microbeads, but the manufacturer has indicated it will replace in a given timeframe or adapt the product accordingly;
Green: This product is free from plastic microbeads.