| Georg Ismar |
BERLIN (dpa) – Not many people read the list of contents on shower gel or hand cream to see whether they contain polyethylene or acrylate particles, but there is increasing concern over the long-term effects of these tiny bits of plastic on the environment.
Micro particles – or micro plastics, micro beads or microspheres – find use in a variety of products, significantly in cosmetics and skincare products such as scrubs.
After use on the skin, they are washed down the bathroom sink into the sewers and ultimately the rivers, lakes and seas, as they are in general not filtered out in water treatment plants, or they end up in sewage sludge and are spread on agricultural land.
There is rising concern about them. Legislation to reduce or eliminate their use in skincare products has been enacted or is under consideration in the United States, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries.
Research by Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Ocean Research (AWI) has found that water purification plants are unable to deal with the problem, with between 86 and 714 particles being found in each cubic metre of effluent.
The resultant dried sludge could hold as many as 24,000 micro particles per kilogramme. While there are ways of removing the particles, these are costly.
Maria Krautzberger, head of Germany’s UBA Federal Environment Agency, says the problem goes well beyond cosmetics. Secondary micro plastic, generated for example by shredding plastic bags or by tyre wear on roads, is part of the wider problem.
According to the UBA, three quarters of all sea pollution results from synthetics, with research showing that more than 250 marine species ingest plastics after it enters their food chain.
This in turn means that micro plastic is increasingly finding its way into the human food chain.