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What Australians can do about our microbeads problem

Many of us don't give too much thought to the little blue and red beads in cleansers and bodywash. But you should. Those little particles called microbeads are a serious environmental concern.

Microbeads are tiny particles of plastic that many personal care brands include in products such as face wash, face exfoliant and body wash. They are designed to help you scrub and clear dirt and dead cells from your skin,  leaving you looking fresher and younger. So, in theory microbeads don't sound like such a terrible thing.

The problem with microbeads occurs after you're done washing your face. Once you rinse off your cleanser, those little particles of plastic head down the drain and into the sewer systems. Our sewer systems lead to water treatment plants that make the drainage suitable to be sent back into the ocean. But unfortunately our water treatment plants are not equipped to filter out microbeads from the water they treat.

As a result, all these microbeads from face washes and body washes we use end up in the ocean. Microbeads, like most plastics, are not biodegradable and once they're in the ocean, it's almost impossible to get them back out.

The pollution of our oceans has numerous repercussions. But one of the most noticeable short term consequences of microbeads is the impact they have on our food. Sea creatures are eating and absorbing these microbeads that float around in the ocean. So it's likely that much of the fish we're eating is full of microbeads. Gross.

The continued use of microbeads essentially means more and more plastic is getting pumped into the seas that we swim in and that we eat from.

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So what can you do about microbeads? Don't buy them.

This is not a new issue. In fact, Obama recently banned microbeads after a study showed that 8 trillion microbeads were entering American waterways daily – enough to cover the surface of 300 tennis courts. As a result, the USA is phasing out microbeads and they cannot be sold after July 2017. In Australia, a number of retailers and brands have gone microbead free, with many others making plans to do the same in the next few years. These are all steps in the right direction.

However, if we want to make a real difference, the onus falls on the consumer. We need to stop buying and using products with microbeads in them.

The first step is learning about microbeads and the companies still using them. A great resource is the website Beat the Microbead. It explains all the kinds of personal care products that contain microbeads and exactly why consumers need to take a stand.

It also has handy list of brands and products that are microbead free, phasing microbeads out and still using microbeads to help inform your purchasing decisions.

There is also an app available to help you make the right decisions when purchasing beauty products. Developed by the North Sea Foundation and the Plastic Soup Foundation, the app lets you scan the barcodes of products so you can easily determine whether or not they include microbeads.

Which brands and stores are free from microbeads?

The list of brands and products free from microbeads from Beat the Microbead is a great resource, but not all encompassing unfortunately.

If you are looking for more brands that are microbead free, you may want to consider all natural products. Brands that are certified as "all natural" and/or "organic" should be free from microbeads in accordance with Australian certification standards.

Another option is to shop at stores like Nourished Life that don't stock products containing microbeads. Nourished life's policy is to only stock natural and organic products. It has the highest and strictest ethical and ecological standards, with a list of over 1,000 banned ingredients. You can read more about the product policies here.

Top microbead free options

Dr. Hauschka Lemon Lemongrass Vitalising Body Wash
Nourished Life
100% Pure Jasmine Green Tea Cleanser
Nourished Life
Acure Brightening Facial Scrub
Nourished Life
Weleda Evening Primrose Revitalising Body Wash
Nourished Life
Warpaint Natural Teeth Whitener
Nourished Life
Lavera Kids Tooth Gel
Nourished Life

Mia Steiber

Mia Steiber is a journalist at with a serious shopping habit and an addiction to gold jewellery. Her talents include tracking down one-off or almost sold out pieces and knowing the sizing charts for just about every brand.

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