Microbeads are manufactured solid plastic particles of less
than five millimeters in their largest dimension.
They are most frequently made of polyethylene but can be of
other petrochemical plastics such as polypropylene and polystyrene.
They are used in exfoliating personal care products,
toothpastes and in biomedical and health-science research.
Microbeads can cause plastic particle water pollution and
pose an environmental hazard for aquatic animals in freshwater and ocean
In the US, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 phases out
microbeads in rinse off cosmetics by July 2017. The Netherlands was the
first country to ban cosmetic microbeads in 2014.
Microbeads are washed down the drain, can pass unfiltered
through the sewage treatment plants and make their way into rivers and
canals, resulting in plastic particle water pollution.
A variety of wildlife, from small fish, amphibians and
turtles to birds and larger mammals, mistake microbeads for their food
This ingestion of plastics introduces the potential for
toxicity not only to these animals but to other species higher in the food
Greenpeace refers to it as a “toxic time bomb”. Once in the
marine environment microplastics can both release and absorb toxins, which
can then move throughout the foodchain.