Natural alternatives to microplastics

The ban on microbeads in cosmetics is now in full effect in the UK after a long-awaited Government pledge. Companies are no longer allowed to manufacture products containing the tiny pieces of plastic, which have hit the news due to their role in ocean pollution. For glowing, refreshed skin microbeads need not apply at LUSH.

Microbeads, a specific type of microplastics, are miniscule balls of plastic that have a widespread use in personal care products such as scrubs or toothpastes.

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said: "Trillions of tiny pieces of plastic are accumulating in the world's oceans, lakes and estuaries, harming marine life and entering the food chain. The microbeads in scrubs, shower gels and toothpastes are an avoidable part of this plastic pollution problem. A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean."

At Lush, natural, biodegradable alternatives are available in all of our body and face scrubs. Spin your black pots around to the ingredients list and you’ll read of aduki beans, coarse sea salt, bamboo stem extract and more.

Why are microplastics bad for the environment?

You’d be unlikely to order plastic soup from the menu of your favourite restaurant. Unfortunately, birds and marine life across the world don’t have the benefit of choice.

Dr van Sebille of Imperial College London, UK conducted a study on the effect of plastics on birds and seabirds. He said: "We found that 80% of seabird species ingest plastic into their stomach, and that if you weigh that plastic, the amount of plastic that a typical seabird now carries around can be up to 10% of their body weight."

According to the Grantham Institute, also from Imperial College London, the amount of plastic entering the ocean in the year 2010 alone was between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes.

Plastic is prized for being long-lasting and hard-wearing. Its greatest asset is also its greatest flaw. As it fragments and breaks down into smaller particles - due to UV sunlight, chemical and mechanical degradation - it transforms the world’s oceans into a kind of global microplastic soup. The small size of the microplastics that remain are ingested by marine life, and the long-term effects of this are largely unstudied.

UN GESAMP (Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection) believe that the potential effects of microplastics on marine organisms include: physical effects such as obstruction; chemical effects due to transportation of toxic chemicals; impaired health; impacts on population and ecosystems; and dispersal of damaging pathogens.

What are the alternatives to microplastics?

As other cosmetics brands have moved from traditional exfoliants to microplastics, the inventors at Lush have been discovering more and more biodegradable alternatives to use.

Nature provides all the exfoliation your face and body needs: nuts, including walnuts and almonds, can be ground into different sizes to suit different products; pumice powder is fantastic on harder areas of skin; and caster sugar packs a sweetness that makes it perfect for polishing lips.

Cosmetic microbeads might only make up a small proportion of microplastics entering the ocean (between 0.01% and 4%), but, according to the Environmental Audit Committee they "are an avoidable environmental problem, and they are the source of microplastics about which most is known". What a great place to start.

You can find out more about how to exfoliate skin here.

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