An estimated 209.6 trillion plastic microbeads enter the water from China every year. This is the equivalent of 306,900 kilos of microplastic. These findings were published by Chinese researchers in an article that appeared in the professional journal, Water Research.
The researchers examined nine facial scrubs on the number of microbeads they contained. This varied from 5,219 to 50,391 plastic beads per gram. Taking an average of 1.85 grams for each use, the researchers estimated that between 10,000 and 100,000 microbeads disappear down the drain every time someone uses a facial scrub. These minute plastic beads then flow into the sewage system.
Sewage purification plants are not designed to filter microbeads from waste water. This is the most important reason that they eventually add to the plastic soup. Once in the sea, microbeads also enter the food chain as they resemble the plankton and fish eggs that fish and other sea animals eat.
Given the damage that microbeads cause to the environment, a number of countries and personal care product producers have taken steps to ban or phase out microbeads from their products. In 2012, Unilever was the first major producer to pledge to remove microbeads from its products. In December 2015, President Obama signed the “Microbead-Free Waters Act”, that bans microbeads from 2017. In June 2016, the Canadian government classified plastic beads as toxic. The Plastic Soup Foundation would welcome China taking similar action.