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Latest app detects presence of plastic micro-beads

By Michelle Yeomans+

16-Oct-2013
Last updated on 16-Oct-2013 at 12:04 GMT

The ‘Beat the Micro-bead’ app for smart phones has been developed by 30 NGOs in a bid to offer consumers more information about the presence of the plastic materials in personal care products.

Available in English, Dutch, French, Spanish and German, the application aims to make eco-minded consumers more aware of their purchasing behaviour by scanning the barcode of a product to determine whether or not it contains plastic micro-beads through a traffic light colour code.

It works by way of categorising products within those three colours, so 'Red' meaning that the product contains the materials; 'orange' indicating that while it contains micro-beads, the manufacturer has pledged to stop using them in the near future and 'Green' ensuring that the product does not contain the material at all.

Micro-beads have commonly been used as exfoliants in skin care scrubs, shower gels and soaps. They are based micro-plastic abrasives, and some of the biggest cosmetic and personal care producers have already made moves to ban them from formulations in a bid to avoid plastic pollution.

However, Jeroen Dagevos of North Sea Foundation, one of the NGOs involved in the development says that the issue is still on-going and that; "Water treatment plants are unable to filter these micro-beads completely and thus directly influence the plastic soup that threatens oceans.”

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) commissioned an international and multi-platform version of the already existing Dutch iOS App earlier this year and the international version will be presented this Friday at the Gloc-2 conference of the UNEP.

The industry is making efforts to introduce alternatives...

Researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science recently revealed that a grant had given them the resources to develop a PHA-based micro-bead for cosmetic products with a far lower environmental impact.

The $60,000 scholarship, from the Virginia Innovation Partnership, was awarded to Dr Kirk Havens and assistant professor Donna Bilkovic to develop and test a biodegradable replacement.

They will collaborate on the project with Drs Jason McDevitt, Director of William & Mary's Technology Transfer Office, Charles Bott of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, and David Holbrook of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The researchers have already begun creating batches of microbeads in the laboratory; testing various formulations and processes for producing beads of different colour and size-from 1 to 100 microns.

"The idea," says Havens, "is that our microbeads will biodegrade quickly, within septic tanks, wastewater treatment plants, and smaller tributaries; before they ever reach the Bay. It's a proactive approach to reducing microplastic pollution."

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