The Cost of Lookin’ Good: A Review on Microplastics in Cosmetics and Their Impacts on Marine Life

A. Simons \ Oceans First, Issue 3, 2016, pgs. 23-30

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Abstract: Microplastic debris in oceans around the world has been accumulating over the last decade, with concentrations reaching over 100 000 microplastics per m3 in some areas. Though microplastics are defined as pieces of plastic debris measuring less than 5 mm in diameter, they are possibly the most harmful litter found in the ocean. Microplastics cause injury and death to marine birds, mammals, fish, and reptiles. These small pieces of litter not only block feeding appendages and obstruct the passage of food through the intestinal tract, they are also vectors for toxic chemicals that end up in the stomachs of marine animals and bioaccumulate through the trophic levels. Banning microbeads from all cosmetics, a primary source of microplastics, is a good start to eliminating them from the earth’s waterways. Each year, 80 tonnes of microplastics from cosmetics such as exfoliates and toothpastes end up in the ocean. Microbeads found inside cosmetics are not vitally important to the function of the product and make up a significant portion of the microplastics found in the ocean. The most effective way to immediately decrease the accumulation of microplastics in the ocean would be to eliminate them from all cosmetics.