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Personal care products are the main source of microplastics in the ocean and banning them will solve the problem

Personal care products include microplastics in the form of abrasive microbeads “in face scrubber cosmetics, or plastic raw material granules used in manufacturing.”[1] These particles eventually make their way into wastewater systems and, depending on the efficacy of treatment systems, can end up in the ocean.[2] Much smaller nano-particles are used in sunscreens which can wash off people’s skin at the beach. While there may be a lot of microplastics in a single personal care product – one study estimated from 4,600 to 94,500 microbeads may be released per application of a skin exfoliant[3] – it is not considered a major source and “is relatively small compared with other sources or primary and secondary microplastics in to the environment, in terms of tonnage involved.”[4]

So, while a ban on microbeads in cosmetics is part of the solution to stop microplastics entering the environment, it will not solve the problem on its own. Nevertheless, microbeads serve as a useful illustration for raising awareness about marine litter in the ocean.

[1] Mepex,2014.Sources of microplastic- pollution to the marine environment. Prepared for the Norwegian Environment Agency.
[2] UNEP, 2016. Plastic in Cosmetics.Division of Environmental Policy Implementation. United Nations Environment Programme.
[3] Napper I.E. et al., 2015. Characterisation, quantity and sorptive properties of microplastics extracted from cosmetics. Marine Pollution BulletinVolume 99, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2015, Pages 178-185.
[4] UNEP, 2016. Marine plastic debris and microplastics – Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.

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