Microbeads in care products endanger marine creatures

Top News | Ceris Wong 7 Jul 2016

Toothpaste, soap and facial cleansers containing microbeads could be responsible for more than 170 types of fish and marine creatures ingesting miniplastic spheres, endangering them, Greenpeace said yesterday.

Microbeads, a type of microplastic measuring less than 5 millimeters, are manufactured mostly for personal-care products such as facial scrubs, cleansers, soaps and toothpaste for lubrication. Since they are too small to be filtered in sewage treatment plants, most of them flow into the ocean where marine life eat them.

The claim is made after a review of overseas studies, and it is believed that 44 percent of face cleansers in the local market contain microplastics.

Greenpeace said a Baptist University study it commissioned found that the average person uses products containing microbeads some 4.39 times a week.

"This is equivalent to creating 1.76 trillion microbeads annually - the weight of 111 double-decker buses," said Kate Lin Pui-yi, a senior Greenpeace campaigner.

The group found that marine creatures - including mussels, bluefin tuna, lobsters, flathead mullets and oysters - have been affected.

It warned that microplastics could accumulate down the food chain.

"We have come across with randomly sampled researches suggesting 30.5 percent of bluefin tuna and 40 percent of flathead mullets contain microplastics. Another case shows that 0.47 granules of microplastics are found in each gram of oyster," Lin said.

She said those finding were not from Hong Kong.

And since the research focused on the global situation and no scientific surveys were carried out to investigate the actual situation in Hong Kong, Greenpeace said it is not sure how widespread and urgent the problem may be here.

The beads could adversely affect the marine animals' reproduction and digestive systems, as well as their energy levels, Lin said. And the effects on humans who eat fish with microplastics is not known.

Greenpeace urged the Hong Kong government to follow the US lead after it banned microbeads last year and legislate against the use of microbeads in personal-care products.

At the same time, it urged consumers to stop buying such products and to learn to read product labels.

The Baptist University poll of 804 people was conducted from April 25 to May 12.

It found 64.8 percent were not aware of the sea contamination and negative impacts on the marine ecosystem.

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