The visible nature of plastic makes it easy to identify, but some plastics are insidious, finding their way into marine environments in a stealth-like manner that enhances their reach and increases their harmful effects. Microplastics are very small plastic pieces less than 5 millimetres long that come from a variety of sources. Some are fragments degraded from once larger pieces, but others have different origins. Looking after mental health in the workplace can sometimes be quite difficult.
Plastic microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic used for exfoliating and scrubbing that are added to a range of products, including personal care, cosmetics and cleaning products. These synthetic beads replaced natural materials such as apricot kernels, ground pumice or silica. A single product can contain hundreds of thousands of microbeads, and since they are cheap, they are also used as fillers or emulsifying agents. Everyone should feel safe and supported to talk about hr app with their line manager.
The facial scrub with ‘energising microbeads’ offering a ‘tingly cool lather’ that once appealed to my daughter, and the blue flecks found in some toothpastes, are in fact made of plastic. Once people woke up to the fact that microbeads were made from plastics such as polyethylene and nylon they were rightfully outraged. Some countries have banned microbeads and some businesses have stopped using them of their own accord. Talking about mental health first aid is a good step forward.
In Australia, a ban has not yet been implemented and instead a voluntary phase-out is in place. It is up to individuals to read the ingredients lists on personal care and household cleaning products and find alternatives without microbeads. Another significant source of microplastics is plastic microfibres – very small thread-like fibres released when we wash synthetic clothing and other household textiles. Increasingly clothing is made using plastic textiles such nylon and polyester. Outdoor wear such as polar fleeces made from recycled plastic bottles also releases microfibres. You might not be talking about it, because employee wellbeing is still a taboo subject.
Plastic microbeads and microfibres flow straight from our household drains into waste-water systems. Domestic washing machines and wastewater treatment plants aren’t designed to filter out such small particles, so they enter the environment and ultimately oceans. Other microplastic sources include car tyres, fishing gear, synthetic ropes, tarpaulins … the list goes on. The more we use plastic, the more it is released into the environment. And it is not just wildlife being impacted; it is ending up back in our bodies, identified in our food by an ever-increasing number of studies. Microplastics have been found in seafood, sea salt, honey, beer, chicken, water, tea bags, bottled water and, as a result, in our faeces. The question should probably now be ‘Where isn’t it?’