What Are Microplastics And Microbeads?

If you are anything like how I was, you would have heard the term ‘microplastics’ or ‘microbeads’ being thrown around on the news, social media etc but you would not entirely know what it is or the impact it is currently having.

After researching and educating myself about plastic for the past while, I can say that there is a lot to learn- it is something that needs to be better educated in schools and in society in general. So as said in My 10 Easy Zero Waste Swap Outs post  I am going to be sharing what I have/ am learning along the way with you all. With that being said, today I will be talking about Microplastics and Microbeads as well as answering some of the common questions you may be asking about them.


What are microplastics and microbeads?

As the names suggest, microplastics and beads are small pieces of plastic that can be as small as 5mm or less (to the point where you can only view it under a microscope). They end up in rivers, lakes and oceans and have a massive impact on costal and aquatic life. Microbeads are small enough to bypass water treatment systems’ filters and therefore end up in our waterways despite being ‘filtered’. Both of these are extremely hard, and, all in all pretty much impossible to clean and filter out after entering the ocean. The only thing that is possible to obtain is the amount of waste that actually enters the ocean…hopefully.

United Nations Environment has labelled some of the characteristics of microplastic in their publication: http://www.unep.org/ourplanet/september-2015/unep-publications/plastic-cosmetics-are-we-polluting-environment-through-our-personal

Here is a short summary of what those are:

  • Smaller than or the same size as 5mm in diameter
  • Synthetic polymers or copolymers
  • Made of solid materials
  • Nonsoluable in water and most liquids
  • Not degradable

sourced from Panthi International

What or who is to blame for microplastics and microbeads entering the ocean?

A lot is to blame for the amount of microplastic entering the ocean. Our busy lives is what I think it comes down to. We are so caught up in our own lives that we forget the people, wildlife and environment around us. What effects are we having on the earth? Microplastics and beads mainly come from single use plastics like discarded plastic bottles, bags, straws, bottle caps and containers. Someway or another, these all end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. Oh, and maybe you should think twice about buying that ‘lovely’ body scrub wash, because maybe it’s not so lovely for the environment. Additionally, brand packaging is a biggie! Have you ever opened and over sized box to find the small product you ordered surrounded by a gizzilion little balls of hard plastic and polystyrene? Those little balls of plastic are called MICROBEADS.

Microplastic in our foods?

If you follow my Facebook you would have seen the post I shared on a recent study about microplastics in sea salt. A study examined a range of sea salt brands to see if they could identify any ‘random’ particles in this salt. To test this, they dissolved the 16 different brands of salt in water. A total of 72 particles were remaining. ‘Of those, 30 were confirmed as plastic, 17 as pigment that once belonged to plastic, four as dust. Twenty one particles could not be identified’ – Quartz Media. Microplastics are in the unthinkable, when they enter the ocean- they enter the food chain in some way or another.

image sourced from Pinterest- microplastica

What happens to marine life when microplastic and microbeads enters the ocean?

The reason I am writing this post is to inform you of the impact microplastics have, not only on us, but on the marine and coastal life that is in danger due to this. When innocent species ingest microplastics, they unknowingly cause harm to themselves. Their stomachs fill with the plastic and eventually they get blocked, and can no longer eat. This results in starvation and eventually death.

What can I do?

Simply, reduce your plastic, particularly the single use plastic- takeaway coffee cups, straws, plastic toothbrushes… the list goes on! To start, check out my post on 10 super simple zero waste swap outs so that you, too, can start reducing your waste.

It is currently Plastic Free July- a month where you try and go plastic free throughout the month an beyond. This couldn’t be a better time to start going zero waste! I definitely recommend giving it a shot and getting involved! 


Founder + Blogger

Hey there! I'm Brodie, the passionate blogger behind Ethically Engaged. My mission is to find ethical lifestyle options to lead you in the direction of conscious consumerism. I hope you enjoy coming along this journey with me x

  1. A great post- I really love it! Easily explained and great recommendations in the 10 easy ideas post linked. Thanks for your commitment with this topic!
    For me a changing moment in my sustainability thinking was when I moved to Nicaragua to live with a host family and work in a social project. There was no waste disposal program so the people burned their garbage in the streets or their buried it in their gardens. I really hope the sustainable thinking will become a huge movement including all the countries – our developed but also the lower income countries!
    Best to you!
    Mia from sobrevivo.de

    1. Thank you! We all need to be committed and able to realise that there is not a Planet B. Through small changes we can make, it promotes further change. Wow how interesting is that! I hope so too!

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