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Microplastics: Beat the Microbead

Microplastics: Beat the Microbead

4073190917_a09d439bc4 Microplastics: Beat the Microbead News

Microplastic are small plastic pieces or fibers measuring less than 5mm. In personal care products they are almost always smaller than 1mm. They can also come from other, indirect sources: plastic waste into the ocean, due to the effects of weathering, sunlight and wave action, reduces to smaller particles and does not biodegrade.

But why do hundreds, if not thousands of different personal care products use microbeads as abrasive scrubbers and for cleaning when traditional, fast-degradable alternatives such as ground nut shells and salt crystals exists? When these products are washed down the drain after use, the microbeads are too small to be retained by filters at sewage plants and end up in rivers, canals, and ultimately into the seas and oceans. This has negative impact to marine biodiversity and associated implications for human health: marine species are unable to distinguish between food and microplastics and therefore indiscriminately feed on microplastics. Some species of fish excrete plastic easily, but others do not and accumulate plastic internally.

The surface of microplastics have been proven to attract and absorb persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from the marine environment. Traces of POPs for instance were found in birds, ingested together with their plastic hosts. Scientists hypothesis that over time, POPs will start accumulating in the food chain, transferring from species to species, with consequences ultimately for humans.

These observations led to the Dutch campaigned Beat the Microbead. This campaign now extended to many other countries. And in november 2012 they launched a smartphone app to help consumers. The app allows consumers to scan the barcodes of personal care products and to see which one contains microplastics. It has a 3 color-code:

  • green means that the product is completely free from plastic.
  • Orange, that the product contains plastic but the manufacturer has made a public commitment to phase out microbead in the future.
  • Red means that not only the product contains plastic, but that there is no future plan to eliminate it from the product.

Throughout the campaigns producers have been asked to stop adding microplastics to cosmetics, and many have responded positively. If you don’t own a smartphone you can still access the list of products in your country on the Beat the Microbead Website.

Useful link: http://beatthemicrobead.org/en/

Fishing nets: dangers and opportunities

Fishing nets: dangers and opportunities

Background:

Ghost nets are lost or intentionally discarded fishing net floating in the sea. Doing so, they entangle fish, dolphins, se turtles, whales, seals and other marine creatures, and birds as well. This result in restricting movement, causing starvation, laceration, infection and ultimately the death of thousands animals a year.

Recently, estimates by the United Nations suggest that up to 10% of the trash collected in our oceans is now comprised of this debris. Fishing nets are made out of nylon, a really resistant material. They can stay for hundreds of year in the sea, a true danger for marine species. They also create a navigational hazard for boats and pile upon beaches.

Potential:

In 2013 Interface launched its Net Effect project. This carpet tile collection by InterfaceFLOR (the residential collection of Interface) is inspired by the ocean not only in its design but most importantly in the material it is made of.

Discarded fisher nets are collected by local communities in the Philippines and recycled. In addition to providing an income for the population, the project helps cleaning the environment. The fisher nets, which are a big threat to the coral reef, are removed from the sea and from the beaches where they have been staying for years. Indeed, nylon, the material used for both nets and carpet comes out of mineral oil and takes hundred of years to degrade. By recycling it, Interface lowers its energy-use and help to restore a fragile environment Carpet making is a pollution intensive industry, but Interface is making business in the most sustainable way possibles since 1995. They only use recycled or bio-produced materials and their Misson Zero goal was set in order to achieve zero environmental footprint by 2020.

Another firm using discarded fishing net is Bureo, who makes skateboards out of nets collected along the Chilean coast. The two young californian founder of Bureo are currently raising money on kickstarter to be able to launch the product for good.

Do it Yourself:

A derived DIY from this project consist in upcycling nets used to package lemons, onions and so on. Other DIYs inspired from the Net effect project are rugs woven out of plastic bags.

Useful links: