Are There Nanoplastics in Your Personal Care Products?

Fragmentation of plastic debris and the commercial use of plastic microbeads have led to the widespread distribution of microplastics in natural environments. Several studies have reported on the occurrence and toxicity of microplastics in soils and waters; however, due to methodological challenges, the presence and impact of nanoplastics (<100 nm) in natural systems have been largely ignored. Microbeads used in consumer products such as scrubs and shampoos are processed by mechanical means that may lead to their fragmentation into potentially more hazardous nanoplastics. In this study, three commercial facial scrubs containing polyethylene microbeads (~0.2 mm diameter) were examined to verify whether they contained nanoplastics. Particulates in the scrubs were fractionated using sequential filtration to isolate particles smaller than 100 nm. Scanning electron microscopy was used to confirm the presence of nanoparticles ranging in size from 24 ± 6 nm to 52 ± 14 nm. X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy were used to confirm that the identified nanoparticles consisted of polyethylene. This study confirms the (unexpected) presence of nanoplastics in personal care products containing polyethylene microbeads and highlights the need for further studies to characterize the release and distribution of nanoplastic litter in natural aquatic and soil environments.

Laura M. Hernandez, Nariman Yousefi, and Nathalie Tufenkji, Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., 2017, 4 (7), pp 280–285

Characterisation of plastic microbeads in facial scrubs and their estimated emissions in Mainland China

Plastic microbeads are often added to personal care and cosmetic products (PCCPs) as an abrasive agent in exfoliants. These beads have been reported to contaminate the aquatic environment and are sufficiently small to be readily ingested by aquatic organisms. Plastic microbeads can be directly released into the aquatic environment with domestic sewage if no sewage treatment is provided, and they can also escape from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) because of incomplete removal. However, the emissions of microbeads from these two sources have never been estimated for China, and no regulation has been imposed on the use of plastic microbeads in PCCPs. Therefore, in this study, we aimed to estimate the annual microbead emissions in Mainland China from both direct emissions and WWTP emissions. Nine facial scrubs were purchased, and the microbeads in the scrubs were extracted and enumerated. The microbead density in those products ranged from 5219 to 50,391 particles/g, with an average of 20,860 particles/g. Direct emissions arising from the use of facial scrubs were estimated using this average density number, population data, facial scrub usage rate, sewage treatment rate, and a few conservative assumptions. WWTP emissions were calculated by multiplying the annual treated sewage volume and estimated microbead density in sewage. We estimated that, on average, 209.7 trillion microbeads (306.9 tonnes) are emitted into the aquatic environment in Mainland China every year. More than 80% of the emissions originate from incomplete removal in WWTPs, and the remaining 20% is derived from direct emissions. Although the weight of the emitted microbeads only accounts for approximately 0.03% of the plastic waste input into the ocean from China, the number of microbeads emitted far exceeds the previous estimate of plastic debris (>330 μm) on the world’s sea surface. Immediate actions are required to prevent plastic microbeads from entering the aquatic environment.

Pui Kwan Cheung, Lincoln Fok, Water Research, Volume 122, 1 October 2017, Pages 53–61

The article

Government drops opposition to Bill banning microplastics

The Government has reversed a decision to oppose a Labour Party Bill banning the use of microplastics and microbeads in personal care items including scrubs, soaps, lotions and toothpastes.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney had originally planned to reject the Prohibition of microplastics Bill on the grounds that it could place Ireland in breach of EU Treaty articles on the free movement of goods and that it was flawed in definitions, enforcement and its “level of ambition”.

But in the Dáil on Thursday he told the Bill’s author, Cork East Labour TD Seán Sherlock, that the Government would not oppose the legislation but would probably abstain and allow it to proceed on the basis that “if and when we produce the Government’s legislative response to this whether in the foreshore Bill or in a separate piece of legislation after the work that needs to be done first”. (…) (, 4/05/2017)

The news

Microplastic pollution is widely detected in US municipal wastewater treatment plant effluent

Municipal wastewater effluent has been proposed as one pathway for microplastics to enter the aquatic environment. Here we present a broad study of municipal wastewater treatment plant effluent as a pathway for microplastic pollution to enter receiving waters. A total of 90 samples were analyzed from 17 different facilities across the United States. Averaging all facilities and sampling dates, 0.05 ± 0.024 microparticles were found per liter of effluent. Though a small value on a per liter basis, even minor municipal wastewater treatment facilities process millions of liters of wastewater each day, yielding daily discharges that ranged from ∼50,000 up to nearly 15 million particles. Averaging across the 17 facilities tested, our results indicate that wastewater treatment facilities are releasing over 4 million microparticles per facility per day. Fibers and fragments were found to be the most common type of particle within the effluent; however, some fibers may be derived from non-plastic sources. Considerable inter- and intra-facility variation in discharge concentrations, as well as the relative proportions of particle types, was observed. Statistical analysis suggested facilities serving larger populations discharged more particles. Results did not suggest tertiary filtration treatments were an effective means of reducing discharge. Assuming that fragments and pellets found in the effluent arise from the ‘microbeads’ found in many cosmetics and personal care products, it is estimated that between 3 and 23 billion (with an average of 13 billion) of these microplastic particles are being released into US waterways every day via municipal wastewater. This estimate can be used to evaluate the contribution of microbeads to microplastic pollution relative to other sources (e.g., plastic litter and debris) and pathways (e.g., stormwater) of discharge.

Sherri A. Mason, Danielle Garneau, Rebecca Sutton, Yvonne Chu, Karyn Ehmann, Jason Barnes, Parker Fink, Daniel Papazissimos, Darrin L. Rogers, Environmental Pollution, Volume 218, November 2016, Pages 1045–1054

The article

Microplastics in personal care products: Exploring perceptions of environmentalists, beauticians and students

Microplastics enter the environment as a result of larger plastic items breaking down (‘secondary’) and from particles originally manufactured at that size (‘primary’). Personal care products are an important contributor of secondary microplastics (typically referred to as ‘microbeads’), for example in toothpaste, facial scrubs and soaps. Consumers play an important role in influencing the demand for these products and therefore any associated environmental consequences. Hence we need to understand public perceptions in order to help reduce emissions of microplastics. This study explored awareness of plastic microbeads in personal care products in three groups: environmental activists, trainee beauticians and university students in South West England. Focus groups were run, where participants were shown the quantity of microbeads found in individual high-street personal care products. Qualitative analysis showed that while the environmentalists were originally aware of the issue, it lacked visibility and immediacy for the beauticians and students. Yet when shown the amount of plastic in a range of familiar everyday personal care products, all participants expressed considerable surprise and concern at the quantities and potential impact. Regardless of any perceived level of harm in the environment, the consensus was that their use was unnatural and unnecessary. This research could inform future communications with the public and industry as well as policy initiatives to phase out the use of microbeads.

A.G. Anderson, J. Grose, S. Pahl, R.C. Thompson, K.J. Wyles, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 113, Issues 1–2, 15 December 2016, Pages 454–460

The article