Silly ideas that wreck the planet: Microbeads

Green Party Microbeads
Photo by MPCA Photos CC BY 2.0

I don’t know who thought of it first but some years ago some petro-chemical chemist somewhere decided putting plastic into the products we buy to clean our bodies would give us extra oomph.  And so producers added ‘microbeads’ to some of our toothpaste and facial scrubs and shampoo products; and most of us don’t even realise we’re using them.

But what happens is that once used, microbeads then wash down the drain, through the wastewater system and enter our marine environment where they mingle with all the other plastic that has broken down into teeny weeny pieces. They get eaten by fish, then eaten by bigger predators like us. So we can end up eating our own plastic face scrub.

Microbeads in our everyday care products are stupid, unnecessary and dangerous, and after a two year campaign by youth environmental activists Plastic Diet, the National Government has finally decided that we need to do something about getting rid of them. Finally!

So the Government announced yesterday that they have developed a discussion paper and will be consulting about whether we should ban products with microbeads in them.

We are slow-following many other countries that have already introduced bans. Some cosmetic companies are bowing to consumer pressure and are phasing them out of their product lines.

Maybe I’m being churlish, but the Government’s action on microbeads – or, rather their consultation on microbeads – strikes me as too little too late.  The cosmetics industry in New Zealand are suggesting that due to those bans in other countries we’re likely to be microbead-free here within the next couple of years anyway.

Having said that, as a nation we do have to do something about plastic in the marine environment so we can reverse the dire prediction that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050 if we do nothing. Introducing refunds for plastic drink bottles would be a good start, or even better, the Government could adopt my Members’ Bill to introduce a charge on single-use plastic bags, or ban them outright as many other countries and states have.

But I guess consultation on microbeads is a start in the right direction.  And as the Minister for the Environment told the NZ Herald, he might think about plastic bags in the future.

What you can do to help

In the meantime – you can help make him think by signing this petition at:

How to get rid of microbeads safely

If you’re concerned about how to get rid of your current products, there are several things you can do.

  1. Send your products back to the manufacturer with a letter stating your disappointment in the use of microbeads
  2. Filter the beads from the product with a coffee filter, if you’d like to keep your product.  Seal the beads in a small bag or container and dispose.
  3. Ensure your products are tightly sealed and send to the landfill.  This isn’t ideal but it will stop the beads from getting out into the open.

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About Denise Roche 161 Articles

Green Party MP