Following on from the US government’s total ban on microbeads, local supermarket chains Woolworths and Coles are removing products containing the particles from shelves.
Beauty products such as face washes, body washes and toothpastes can contain up to 300,000 of the tiny plastic particles, which are usually added for exfoliation purposes. But most of us have no idea.
“People think they contain exfoliants like apricot kernels and walnut shells and other natural ingredients but the reality is that these products contain microbeads that are so small that they get through the waste water treatment plants and end up in our waterways and harbours.” says Environmental activist Jon Dee.
Microbeads can cause catastrophic harm to the ecosystem.
“The problem with microplastics is that once they are in the waterway and in the sediments, we can’t get them out,” says University of New South Wales’s Professor Emma Johnston. “There is no way of filtering all the sediments of every harbour in Australia to remove those plastics.”
At one site in Sydney Harbour, the concentration of microplastics was found to be greater than outside a former plastics factory in Sweden.
“I think it’s time that we removed them from all non-essential products,” Professor Johnston said. “The full extent of their toxicity is still unknown.”
Environment Minister Greg Hunt says “Already Coles and Woolworths have responded and committed to banning microbeads from their shelves by the end of 2017, but we want to see a full national phase out.”
But environmentalists say the Government should follow the lead from the US Government, with its recent commitment to legislate a formal ban of microbead production by 2018.
Product manufacturers are also taking action, with Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and The Body Shop pledging to find microbead alternatives.