29/06/2016 06:00 BST | Updated 29/06/2017 06:12 BST

Why We Must Stop Using Microbeads

Shawn Knol via Getty Images

Hi my name's Dougie. I'm not too sure how to start an open letter because I have never written one. Come to think of it, the last letter I wrote was probably to Santa. Anyway, I am a human being from the UK and since the age of three I have been fascinated by the natural world and conservation. On a recent trip to Los Angeles I was introduced to two of the most interesting people I have ever met; Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen, the founders of the charity 5 Gyres. They are a mix of paleontologist, zoologist and environmentalists all rolled into one - the real life Indiana Jones duo.

Ten minutes into our introduction Marcus uncovered a camel gastrolith that he had dug up in Dubai - this was a forty-five pound ball of indigestible plastic found in it's stomach (photo above is me actually holding it)! The camel had been eating plastic bags thinking they were some kind of plant life. It then died of starvation because it couldn't digest the plastic and it's brain was telling him he was full. This blew my mind and made me fully aware of how big the global plastic problem has become. As we continued talking they started telling me about a cause they have been fighting for the past few years, microbeads.


This is me holding the camel gastrolith

Microbeads are the tiny plastic balls used mainly in personal care products including toothpastes that are marketed as "helping to clean you". After using these products the tiny beads rinsed down the drain and end up in our waterways and oceans affecting fish and other animals (not to mention in your gums and in your mouth)! Small Fish eat these beads thinking they are food. Big fish eat the little fish. We eat the big fish. One in four fish that we eat has consumed a microplastic that can be traced back to face scrubs and toothpaste. You get the point. This is a massive global issue affecting all of us as humans.

This made me realize that I've been using all kinds of products from toothpastes to face scrub for years completely unaware that I am washing and cleaning myself with millions of pieces of plastic! Not cool. As we continued chatting I learned that main reason most of us are not aware of this is that the plastics go by different names such as polyethylene and polypropylene. Manufacturers then take these big words and put them on the bottles but don't tell you the tiny little dots are plastic. So I thought I was buying products that would make my teeth whiter or body feel better when I was contributing to the problem.

Fast-forward to today and what's been keeping me up at night is that most people are unaware of this problem. Yes, a ban on microbeads has passed in the US but won't be in affect until 2018. Here in the UK the government has been talking about a ban for a few years but they are still produced. And in almost every other country around the world they are still legal. Everyday tens of millions of beads are entering our oceans because the beads are too small for the filters in the water treatment plants to catch them and are having a HUGE affect on... well, everything!

The ocean is responsible for more than half of our oxygen supply. Through plastic pollution, climate change and over fishing we are impacting the balance of nature and in turn shooting ourselves in the foot as a species. If we can be the generation that stops polluting our oceans, the planet will have time to recover. If not then.... well you guys have seen Pixar's Wall-E right? But we have the power to create change and a shift in culture. Each of us has the ability to voice our opinions against this issue and start conversation about plastic pollution to our friends, family and leaders. Every unused bottle matters.

Here is a list of products that contain microbeads by country. Please stop using them.