The water in the Baltic Sea contains a lot of very small plastic particles collectively known as microplastics since they are so small we almost can’t see them. Some of the main sources of microplastics include personal personal care products and clothing. Microplastics are deliberately put into these products and as they get used and washed these plastics pass into the sewage system before eventually finding their way into the marine environment. Unfortunately, waste water treatment plants cannot filter them out because they are so small and there is no way to remove them once they enter the water system.
Plastic pollution is a major concern for the marine environment. Plastic of different types and sizes can be found on beaches or in the sea, ranging from larger pieces – bottles, bags, plastic packaging and single-use articles to very small plastic particles. Plastic particles smaller than 5mm are called microplastics and they can be categorized into primary and secondary. Primary microplastics are industrially manufactured whereas secondary microplastics form through a fragmentation process when larger plastic items break down due to UV-radiation and/or wave action in the water. Microplastics are widespread throughout the marine environment including surface waters, shallow waters and in the deep-sea sediments.
One of the main ways microplastics enter water systems is through the use of personal care products that contain microplastics. These get flushed down household drains, pass the sewage system before finally ending up in the marine environment, such as our beautiful Baltic Sea.
You can find microplastics in all sorts of personal care products e.g. exfoliators, creams, shower gels, body lotions, eye shadows, deodorants, blush powders, make-up foundations, skin creams, hairsprays, nail polish, liquid makeup, mascaras, shaving creams, baby products, bubble baths, hair coloring and sunscreen.
Microplastics are put into cosmetics to serve different functions e.g. as abrasives in exfoliators or as ﬁlm forming, bulking or viscosity controlling agents in body lotions, facial creams and make-up. In general, microplastic particles used in personal care products are between 50-1000µm and <2,5µm in size and the content varies between 1% and 90%.
Beside the physiological effects of ingesting microplastics, they are also known to accumulate metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) on the particle surface from the surrounding seawater. Those pollutants can then transfer from the plastic to other organisms when ingested and because of its fat solubility there is a large risk that it accumulates in the fat tissues of marine organisms and therefore enter the human food chain.
In the Central Baltic, litter items vary between 75,7 items/100m discovered at rural beaches to 236,6 items/100m at urban beaches. Due to the fact that the Baltic Sea has a slow water exchange rate it is likely that marine litter accumulates at the sea bed. Trawler surveys found that sea bed litter in the Baltic Sea (0.2 kg/km) is twice as high as in the North Sea (0.098 kg/km). Another study of the Baltic Sea region revealed that annually 130 tons of microplasticsfrom care products are flushed down household drains and due to ineffective filtering by sewage treatment plants, up to 40 tons of microplastics end up in the Baltic Sea.
Microplastic ingredients that you can find in personal care products:
Download as image: Microplastics
|Type of miroplastics|
|Function in products|
Binder for powders
|Polypropylene (PP)||Bulking agent|
Viscosity increasing agent
Aesthetic agent (e.g. glitters in bubble bath, makeup)
Opacifying (e.g. wrinkle creams)
|Polyurethane (PUR)||Film formation (e.g. facial masks, sunscreen, mascara)|
|Acrylates Copolymer (AC)||Binder|
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