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Microplasty – what is it actually??
Microplasty is the name given to small particles that are usually smaller than 5 millimetres and barely visible to the human eye. Water-soluble, liquid, waxy and gel-like plastics are generally not included. The effects they have on the environment have not yet been sufficiently researched.
Microplastics are either industrially produced or are created when larger plastic parts, such as plastic bags, decompose into their individual components. Microplastics are found in cosmetics preferably as beads in peelings and shower gels and as fillers or binders in creams, lipsticks & co.
Why is microplasty harmful?
The main problems in microplastics are that, on the one hand, it is produced in the majority of cases from the scarce raw material crude oil and, on the other hand – which is even worse – it is not biodegradable. It is thus released into our environment and oceans in unpredictable quantities without being filtered.
The sewage treatment plants are also not yet able to filter the tiny particles completely out of the water, so that the microscopically small particles get into our water and above it onto our fields and into the air. They are completely contained in a cycle in which they do not belong.
They remain there for centuries, serving as carriers for pesticides and environmental toxins that settle on them, and are now supposed to be food for marine organisms such as fish, mussels and worms. Microplasty in water acts like a magnet on toxins, attracting and holding them, so that the absorption of particles by living organisms, for example, leads to tumor formation and increased mortality rates. As if this wasn’t dramatic enough, we also attack our own health with microplastics, in that this “charged poison” also lands on our plates through the cycle (sea, agriculture, etc.).
Additives are often added to the plastic in order to achieve further properties. BPA (bisphenol A), to name one of these additives, has not yet been sufficiently researched, but it is already known to be potentially harmful to health.
Microplastics in cosmetics?
Of the 300 million tons of plastic produced worldwide every year according to the Federal Environment Agency, an entire garbage truck full of plastic lands in the oceans every minute. (cf. https://www.umweltbundesamt.de)
According to a study conducted by the consumer platform Codecheck in 2016, up to 2.8 million plastic particles can enter the oceans from a single tube of peeling. According to this study, one of the best-known microplastic substances, polyethylene, was still contained in every third peeling and every fifth lipstick, despite the voluntary commitment of some major cosmetics manufacturers not to use microplastic in their products. According to Codecheck, microplastics are also represented in cosmetic products under a variety of names. For example, it is used as nylon-12 in make-ups or as an acrylic copolymer in shower gels.
BUND has written a purchasing guide “Microplastics – the invisible danger”, which contains the following microplastic substances most frequently found in cosmetics:
After all, the proportion of microplastics in our environment resulting from cosmetics is not in the forefront. Nevertheless, and this is essential, it is avoidable!
The following pages offer support in the search for products without microplastics:
- Greenpeace offers a microplastic checklist with the most common plastics in cosmetics and care products. https://www.greenpeace.de/sites/www.greenpeace.de/files/publications/20170502-greenpeace-kurzinfo-plastik-kosmetik.pdf
- The BUND offers a helpful negative list. It names the products that contain microplastics https://www.bund.net/fileadmin/user_upload_bund/publikationen/meere/meere_mikroplastik_einkaufsfuehrer.pdf
- The smartphone app Codecheck informs you through a barcode scan about all questionable ingredients, based on scientific assessments, tells you if and what kind of microplastics are contained, and suggests alternatives. https://www.codecheck.info/so-gehts/start
And for those who want it even easier, the magic word is: natural cosmetics.
Natural cosmetics manufacturers generally do not add microplastic to their products. So you are on the safe side here.