I grew up at the coast of Mombasa, in Kenya. Being by the ocean is wonderful, I love the beach, the sound and smell of the sea and the sense of peace it brings. One day, I hope to live by the ocean again. Unfortunately, the world’s oceans are being chocked by plastic waste. Most plastic waste comes from the slow decomposition of larger plastic items which are not properly disposed, for example, packaging like drinks bottles.
As a result of exposure to UV radiation and friction, the larger plastics break down into minuscule pieces, smaller than 5mm, over a long period of time. These tiny plastic particles are called microplastics or microbeads. Microplastics are from a wide variety of sources, including fibers from synthetic clothing that dissolve when washed. A minor percentage of microplastics in the ocean are from cosmetics, but this is not a good enough reason to ignore their presence in skin care.
In skincare, microbeads are proven safe for topical human contact, and are added to toothpastes and scrubs (face and body) and other forms of cleansers. Since they are small enough to go down the drain, they easily pass water filtration systems, usually ending up in the ocean. While harmless to humans, they are dangerous to marine life, which consumes them.
On 28th December 2015, US President Barack Obama signed a bill called the “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015” which bans the use of microbeads in cosmetics. Cosmetic brands that retail in the US will quickly need to adapt, changing production practices since manufacturing is banned from mid 2017 and the full ban comes into effect two years later. Canada is also banning microbeads. The EU and Africa are still sitting on their climate change laurels about this important issue.
The most I could get about policy makers banning microbeads in Africa was this article in a Kenyan daily about the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) “calling for the establishment of a multi-stakeholder forum to discuss the use of plastic microbeads in manufacturing cosmetics, soap and toothpaste.” What?! Seriously?! Someone is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. I’d gladly give them the research, no “calling for the establishment of a forum to discuss” needed. Responsible African cosmetics manufacturers, needed to sought out sustainable biodegradable solutions as soon as yesterday.
If you think this issue is far away from us, think again, there is a plethora of Western cosmetics on the African market with products that have microbeads, from Neutrogena, Olay, Clean & Clear and Aveeno to Clarins, Clinique, Dermalogica, and Victoria’s Secret, just to name a few. Since US brands will have to quickly make the switch, I’m assuming all that excess microbead stock will find its way to our continent, unless the policy makers wake up.
Aside from reducing my plastic consumption, as a beauty blogger, I will not review or use products containing microbeads. Consumers should not stand for this. Check ingredients lists and if they contain either of these terms – polyethylene and polypropylene, don’t buy it. Like Caroline Hirons says – “Hit the brands where it hurts. With your wallets.” Maybe then policy makers will take note.
For more information on microbeads in cosmetics, you can go here:
What is your opinion on microbeads? Have you heard any African policy makers speak up on the matter? Let me know in the comments.