It is all too easy to wash things down our sink without thinking about; what they are? Where they are going? And, most importantly – will they cause any harm when they get there? The scary truth is that everyday we are washing things down our sink that are ending up in our rivers, lakes and oceans, and are causing harm.

I am referring to exfoliating face washes and shower gels. Or more precisely, the tiny plastic microbeads they contain to create the ‘scrub’ effect. Wastewater treatment plants aren’t designed to deal with them so many reach our waterways. The worse part of this is most people are completely unaware of the damage they are causing.

To give you an indication of the scale of this problem, each microbead is approximately 1 mm and each product may contain hundreds of thousands of them. They have been found in rivers, lakes and oceans worldwide, including; the Great Lakes of North America, Lake Geneva of Europe and the North Pole.

By contaminating our waterways with this non-biodegradable plastic the obvious problem here is pollution. Not so obvious is these microbeads are making their way into our food chain. Many marine species mistake the microbeads for food and eat them. Some species are able to excrete this plastic but many are not.

You may well have heard of this problem already, unfortunately most people are still continuing to use these products regardless.

The problematic plastics making up these microbeads include; polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethacrylate (PMMA) and nylon. If included, these should be listed within the ingredients on the packaging.

To make life easier an app, ‘beat the microbead’, has been developed. Simply scan the barcode to find out whether the product contains microbeads.

You can download the app here.

Some big companies are on board with the ‘beat the microbead’ campaign and pledging to stop using these microbeads. However, with the help of this app we can make a positive difference by identifying and ditching our microbead-containing products today!

The good news is the microbeads can easily be replaced with natural alternatives such as groundnut shells or salt crystals as were previously used. So get scanning!