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The deadly lifecycle of microplastics

How microplastics go from cosmetic additives to waterway polluters.

In the era of consumerism where there is a seemingly endless supply of off the shelf cosmetic products, the impact of microplastics on the environment is an increasingly alarming concern. Here, Dr Ashlee Jahnke, head of research and development at biodegradable biopolymer developer Teysha Technologies, explores the lifecycle of these tiny particles, from cosmetics to our waterways, and their environmental impact.


A microplastic is a plastic with a diameter under 5 mm, meaning they often go unseen by the naked eye. Microplastics are commonly found in cosmetic products, such as toothpastes, lotions, body washes and exfoliating scrubs, in the form of microbeads.


These microbeads serve as abrasive agents in these products, providing a smoother texture to creams or aiding in the removal of dead skin cells. They are also used to improve formulation stability and shelf life as they help prevent ingredients from separating, settling or aggregating over time. As consumers use these products, the microplastics embedded within them are rinsed off and sent down the drain and into our waterways via sewage systems.


This widespread use contributes significantly to the release of microplastics into the environment. According to UK government data, personal care products are estimated to contribute to between 2500 and 10,000 tonnes of microplastics entering the oceans annually.


Once these microplastics are washed down the drain, their journey takes an unpredictable turn through wastewater treatment plants, where they may be effectively filtered out. However, a significant proportion of microplastics escape conventional wastewater treatment processes, ending up in the world’s waterways.


The entry of microplastics into water systems represents a severe threat to aquatic ecosystems and, ultimately, human health. These minuscule particles are ingested by marine life, entering the food chain and causing a cascade of detrimental effects, which impacts people who have ingested the microplastic contaminated seafood and water.


The long term health implications of microplastic exposure are still under scrutiny, but emerging research suggests potential risks to human health, including the transfer of harmful chemicals associated with plastics.


As consumers, businesses and policymakers grapple with the impact of microplastics, we need a comprehensive approach that encompasses enhanced water treatment effectiveness and sustainable plastic alternatives. This is where Teysha Technologies comes in, having developed a truly sustainable alternative to plastic and traditional petroleum derived bioplastics.


The company’s AggiePol biopolymer is derived entirely from natural feedstocks and is officially a readily biodegradable material in natural conditions following successful OECD 310 testing. Furthermore, the material can be tuned during production to undergo slow or rapid biodegradation, meaning it can be produced tailor made to a given application. This makes it suitable for use in markets like packaging, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, where businesses still rely on either traditional plastics or partially petroleum based bioplastics that contribute significantly to ongoing pollution.


Only through concerted efforts on a global scale and research breakthroughs like the AggiePol biopolymer platform, can we hope to mitigate the pervasive presence of microplastics and safeguard our environment for future generations.


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