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Effect of Microbeads on Marine Life

Info: 1897 words (8 pages) Example Literature Review
Published: 6th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Environmental Studies

How does the production of micro beads in beauty products affect our marine life?

Microbeads are very small pieces of plastics also known as polyethene microbeads that are used within beauty products such as toothpaste and face scrubs (Thefactsabout.co.uk, 2017). Microbeads can be made from other petrochemical plastics (Department, 2016). These types of plastics are only manufactured for consumer goods; however, they are on the way to being banned completely worldwide (Whyte, 2017).

 These small microbeads are non-biodegradable which means when they are released into our environment they stay around for ever (Plastic Free Seas, 2003). This is a problem for our marine animals as they cannot distinguish the difference between food and the miniature microbeads (Clear water, 2017). This is also a big problem for our water ways as these are polycyclic hydrocarbons polluting the environment, making our water unclean (Thefactsabout.co.uk, 2017). The small microbeads are unable to be disposed of unless melted down and reused for another purpose (Gagilas and Alper, 2016).

Micro beads are small plastics make of polyethene, this is also known a polymer or a plastic (ABC News, 2016). A polymer is a large molecule composed of many repeated subunits (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017). There are many physical and chemical properties of polyethene in which make it suitable for the use in body scrubs (1millionwomen, 2017). Polyethene is used in body scrubs due to its ability to adapt to certain activities, to exfoliate the skin in a quick non-natural way and micro abrasions (Biome Team, 2016). They can do this due to their physical properties being sphere, easily moulded and soluble in water. These small microbeads were originally chosen to be used in beauty products is because they are clean, safe and are manufactured to a small size (Biome Team, 2016).

Petroleum is used to manufacture microbeads and has many advantages and/or disadvantages to the environment (Green garage, 2015). Some of the advantages that petroleum can be to the manufacturing of polyethene Is that it is one of the cheapest and one of the easiest oils to be extracted and transported to the factories that are in charge (Green garage, 2015). Density is also an advantage as it can generate a lot of energy. This is good for the microbeads as it will create a lot of product much quicker (Green garage, 2015). As these advantages speed up the process of manufacturing microbeads, petroleum also causes many disadvantages, especially to the environment (Adams, 2014). The disadvantages are the fact that petroleum contributes to environmental pollution as it needs to be transported over oceans, in which can cause an oil spill (Greengarage, 2015). This causes damage to water ways, marine life and can cause financial problems to those companies who lose billions of dollars due to this transportation problem (Greengarage 2015). The production of petroleum leads into the manufacturing of toxic and harmful materials, just like polyethene (Thefactsabout.co.uk, 2017).

There are many natural alternatives for the use of microbeads in beauty products (Biome Team, 2016). The alternatives include powders such as rice powder, argon shell, oatmeal and wheatgrass (Biome Team, 2016). All these natural products exfoliate your skin just as the microbeads would. As these resources are natural they do not send off toxic chemicals into our waterways. They are also compressed powders which means they are biodegradable and will not leave a long-term effect on our environment (Biome Team, 2016).

Polyethene is a versatile synthetic, organic substance made from ethylene. Ethylene (C2H4) is a hydrocarbon which is produced by the cracking of ethane (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017). This is a major component of natural gas; in this case, it can be produced by petroleum (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017).

When heated, there is a catalyst that is present this forms a strong double bond between to carbon atoms (Science and Earth,2017) There is a strong bond which is very difficult for any natural resource to break this bond. As polyethene is a man-made product is it very hard for any natural resource to decompose of these materials when released out into the environment (Ms Simmons, 2017).

 Polyethene microbeads are very small pieces of plastic which are released into our water ways once an individual uses a beauty product containing these small beads (Anon,2017). The main problem to using polyethene is that our marine life are mistaking microbeads for their food (The story of stuff project, 2017). Unfortunately, this leaves the animal with circulatory and possible digestive blockages, leaving the animal very ill (Anon, 2017). As we see on the news, a large number of turtles die or become very ill with malnutrition and starvation due to the littering and consumption of plastic bags (Beatthemicrobead.org, 2017). In this case plastic bags are equivalent to the miniature microbeads, they leave fish and other marine life very ill (Beatthemicrobead.org ,2017) This is a very dangerous problem as polyethene can become toxic when exposed to high temperature, this poisons our marine life, and can be a threat to the higher class of the food chain as we consume these fish etc (Rogers, 2016).

I personally believe microbeads are quite a toxic product that needs to be completely banned worldwide. These products that are non-biodegradable are leaving a huge impact on our environment, especially our water ways and marine life. It’s not only the microbeads which are leaving this awful impact but it is the manufacturing of the microbeads. The extraction and transportation of petroleum is harmful towards our environment especially the marine life. Thousands of marine lives are dying off due to oil spills. If we continue to manufacture microbeads we will destroy our planet. This is a small problem which has great potential to get much bigger. If we don’t stop, we will kill off many species of our fish, and these toxic products may even work their way up the food chain to humans. The fish eat these microbeads; we then eat the fish. This could be very harmful to our health.

Acting right now on such a big future problem may seem stupid, but if we don’t act now we may destroy our clean water ways. Individuals can make a change by cutting out beauty products which contain microbeads. Large companies can make a huge difference by cutting back on the production of polyethylene. By cutting back on this, it stops the transport of petroleum this then stops the larger effect on marine life.  Governments however; can make the biggest difference by banning microbeads completely. The US took this action last year and already it has made a huge difference. If every other country took this on board, we could be saving our world from an impact which may be impossible to fix in the near future.


1millionwomen.com.au. (2017). Plastic microbeads in beauty products are causing damage to environment | 1 Million Women. [online] Available at: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/plastic-microbeads-in-beauty-products-are-causing-damage-to-environment/ [Accessed 17 May 2017].

ABC News. (2016). Are microbeads products bad for the environment?. [online] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-21/microbeads-beauty-exfoliating-products-environmental-damage/7095108 [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-21/microbeads-beauty-exfoliating-products-environmental-damage/7095108 [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Adams, R. (2014). How Your Face Wash Could Be Poisoning Our Water. [online] Huffington Post Australia. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/microbeads-exfoliation_n_4815133 [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Animalsaustralia.org. (2017). Plastic (not) fantastic: microbeads are poisoning our oceans. [online] Available at: http://animalsaustralia.org/features/plastic-microbeads-poisoning-marine-life.php [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: http://file:///Users/chelsea/Downloads/Fauna-Flora-International-launches-the-Good-Scrub-Guide.pdf [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Beatthemicrobead.org. (2017). Product Lists | Beat the Microbead. [online] Available at: http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/product-lists/ [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Clearwater (2017). Marine life and Microbeads. [online] Clearwater. Available at: http://www.clearwater.eu.com/marine-life-and-microbeads [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2017). polyethylene (PE) | chemical compound. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/science/polyethylene [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Gagilas, P. and Alper, L. (2016). Microbead Meltdown. [online] Healthyway. Available at: http://www.healthyway.com/content/microbead-meltdown [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Green Garage. (2015). 16 Marked Advantages And Disadvantages Of Petroleum. [online] Available at: https://greengarageblog.org/16-marked-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-petroleum [Accessed 17 May 2017].

LEAFtv. (2017). The Disadvantages of Exfoliating | LEAFtv. [online] Available at: https://www.leaf.tv/articles/the-disadvantages-of-exfoliating/ [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Plasticmoulding.ca. (2017). Polyethylene | Chemical Composition and Properties. [online] Available at: http://www.plasticmoulding.ca/polymers/polyethylene.htm [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Rogers, T. (2016). Everything You Need To Know About Polyethylene (PE). [online] Creativemechanisms.com. Available at: https://www.creativemechanisms.com/blog/polyethylene-pe-for-prototypes-3d-printing-and-cnc [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Science, L. and Earth, P. (2017). Why Doesn’t Plastic Biodegrade?. [online] Live Science. Available at: http://www.livescience.com/33085-petroleum-derived-plastic-non-biodegradable.html [Accessed 17 May 2017].

team, B. (2017). Exfoliators: Alternatives to Microbeads |. [online] Biome.com.au. Available at: http://www.biome.com.au/blog/exofliators-alternatives-to-microbeads/ [Accessed 17 May 2017].

The Story of Stuff Project. (2017). Plastic Microbeads: They’re Bad. But Together We Can Stop Them.. [online] Available at: http://storyofstuff.org/plastic-microbeads-ban-the-bead/ [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Thefactsabout.co.uk. (2017). Plastic microbeads – in depth – The Facts About – CTPA. [online] Available at: http://www.thefactsabout.co.uk/plastic-microbeads—in-depth/content/251 [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Truthinaging.com. (2015). Polyethylene. [online] Available at: https://www.truthinaging.com/ingredients/polyethelene [Accessed 17 May 2017].

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