Dr Shannon Hampton is the project coordinator for a four-week training course in Ocean Governance for Africa at the International Ocean Institute: Southern Africa (IOI-SA). She manages IOI-SA’s website and social media channels, as well as their youth outreach programme. Shannon initiated the "Beat the Microbead" campaign in South Africa.

Make your mark!

Please take a moment to sign the petition to ban the microbead in South Africa. Click here to sign it now.

Photo by Janet Steenekamp

Being your most beautiful (and clean) should not have anything to do with protecting the oceans. Unfortunately, without realising it, you could be polluting the ocean every time you brush your teeth or wash your face.

Some soaps, toothpastes, facial and body scrubs and household cleaning agents have a secret stash of plastic inside.

This plastic is called microplastic, because it is sometimes too small to see with your naked eye. It is also too small for waste water treatments to effectively remove before the water is discharged. Discharged into rivers. Discharged into oceans.

People who wouldn’t dream of throwing plastic in the sea don’t realise they are doing just that with their favourite body scrubs. The IOI-SA and its partners are working towards getting them banned in South Africa (this has been done successfully in the USA and Canada) but first we need people to be aware that this is an issue!

So, please tell everyone you know:

Illustration by Natascha Leypold

The tiny pieces of plastic get mistaken for food by fish which then get caught by a fisher and land on your plate – plastic included. The microplastics get scooped up in the gaping mouths of whales or filtered through the gills of mussels and sucked in by anemones, affecting all aspects of marine life.

It won’t surprise you that there is no nutritional value to plastic, but, did you know that some of the dyes and flame retardants used to make the plastic are toxic? Not only that, but plastic absorbs hydrophobic (i.e. prefer not to be in water) toxins like DDT and so the plastic becomes many times more toxic than the water that surrounds it (and this possibly gets in to the meat of the fish that you eat).

How can I tell if there are microplastics in my products?

Photo by Janet Steenekamp

Keep a look out for the ingredients below and if you find them in your usual purchases, try something else or (better yet) tell the manufacturer to stop using plastic in their products.

Check ingredients for these sneaky microplastics:

  • Polyethylene (PE) - this is the most common microplastic 
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Nylon
  • Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA)
  • Polythylene Terphthalate (PET)

What’s the solution?

You don’t have to go without your scrubbing routine, because there are natural alternatives available in stores - try Faithful to Nature

You can even make some at home. Try using your used coffee grounds, sugar, or oatmeal - click here for a recipe for home-made, plastic-free exfoliant.

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