The Danger of Microbeads & Microfibres

Aug 12, 2018by F&F

The UK has banned the manufacture of microbeads. This took effect in Jan 2018. It is great news and another step towards reducing these nasty microparticles from our waterways and food chain. So what are these micro plastics and what impact do they have?


What are Microplastics?

Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life. They occur due to the breakdown and use of consumer and industrial waste. Common microplastics you may have heard of are microbeads and microfibres. 


What are Microbeads?

Microbeads are tiny particles and they occur in many cosmetics including exfoliating scrubs, face washes, toothpaste amongst others. They are mostly made from polyethylene because they have a strong scrubbing action to exfoliate. They are banned in some countries but not Australia yet!


What are Microfibres?

Microfibres are found in clothes. The dangerous ones are synthetic clothes, like fleece, as they are microplastics and aren't biodegradable. Microfibres are something we don't even think about and are in many, many clothes so we need to try and manage as best we can. 


What's the impact?

These tiny particles aren't biodegradable, being plastic, so they get washed down our drains and end up in our waterways and oceans filling our oceans and marine life with yet more plastic and slowly killing them and our ecosystem. Also these plastic beads absorb even more pollutants on their journey making a pretty toxic meal for a fish. And what eats fish? Bigger fish, marine animals and humans. Well we don't because we're vegan but these plastic traces get into our food supply. A nutritionist once said to me to never eat tuna and 'big' fish. She said the bigger they are the more toxic they are. 

In addition microbeads, and microplastic (microbeads are a subset of microplastics), can be found in our drinking water. A recent study showed 83% of tap water samples analysed from around the world had plastic fibres in them. These fibres come from the environment, synthetic clothes being washed, paint dust and they, like microbeads, can absorb toxins, which we drink, so this impacts our health. A good article to read on this is by Orb Media

Within the food chain, microplastics have been found to cause physical and chemical impacts, resulting in starvation and reproductive consequences in species. Microplastics and microfibers have also been found in marine species directly consumed by humans, the effects of which are as yet unknown.


What are microbeads in?

Sadly lots of products including face cleansers, face scrubs, toothpastes, soap and hand wash can contain microbeads. A great reference article is here which list products with microbeads. But, as mentioned earliers microbeads are just one element of microplastics in our oceans and waterways. Microfibres are another. 


What does the microbead ban mean? 

The ban in the UK means the manufacture of products containing microbeads is now banned. The ban on selling them will come later in 2018. Some other countries, including the US and NZ, ban them too but Australia isn't one of them yet; in Australia we have a voluntary phase out period where we are hoping companies will stop using them. We think there just needs to be a ban. 


What can I do to help?

1) Never buy anything with microbeads in it; if you see polyethylene, nylon or polypropylene on a label of a scrub or toothpaste it's more than likely microbeads. You can be safe in the knowledge nothing at Flora & Fauna has microbeads so our scrubs and toothpastes use only what nature gave us, not bits of plastic. 

2) Educate others with microbeads by sharing information so, as a society, we change our behaviour. 

3) Stay away from synthetic material garments so buy clothing that biodegrades like organic cotton. We know it isn't always possible. 

4) Use a Cora Ball in your washing machine to help reduce microfibres and microplastics in our water ways. 


How does the Cora Ball Work?

The Cora Ball goes in your washing machine and catches microfibres in the washing so you can keep them out of our waterways. It will last years and is also great for pet hair too! We have cats in our household and this has been very handy!

For most homes, one Cora Ball will do the job. For large families, especially with a large washing machine, we recommend up to 3. The Cora Ball catches up to 35% of the microfibers per load, per Cora Ball. The effectiveness depends on several factors including what items are in the load, wash settings, wash frequency and the presence of pet hair (which helps catch fibers)!

Clothing like fleece tends to produce more microfibres so after washing these garments you are likely to see more lint. You do not need to clean after every wash, just when there is a build up of lint. 

How To Use It

  1. Put it in your washing machine with your clothes. It works in a front loader, top loader (with or without a center spindle), a hybrid, or whatever you have that washes your clothes.
  2. Do not use with delicates. The Cora Ball works best with your everyday clothes. Please separate your delicates, knits, fine fabrics, anything with tassels, fraying threads or spaghetti straps. There is a chance that these clothes, fabrics, threads or straps work their way into the stalks and wrap, pull or worse. Just keep your Cora Ball on the shelf when you wash these fabrics and delicate garments.
  3. Clean Your Cora Ball. Cleaning is easy and similar to cleaning a hairbrush. When you see fuzz/lint balls that are big enough to grab, simply pull them out and dispose of responsibly. We don't know of a way to recycle the lint fibres (similar to lint from your dryer) but this keeps them out of waterways.
  4. Frequency: it will take some time, weeks even, for you to see the fuzz/lint (see below for what to expect). We recommend having a look every bunch of washes and when you see a big fuzz/lint ball, take it out. Don't worry about cleaning the whole Cora Ball. Those little tangles of hair and fiber will attract more hair and fiber and grow big enough for you to grab easily.

More Articles