For the original study, researchers subjected six products available on the high street to vacuum filtration and subsequent analysis using electron microscopy showed that each 150ml of the products could contain between 137,000 and 2.8 million microparticles.
Professor Thompson, who was made an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List in recognition of his services to marine science, added:
“I have always said that in order to tackle the problems associated with marine pollution, a holistic approach is needed. That includes scientific research, action from industry and legislation from government and although we can’t say all cosmetic products are completely plastic free, this is a demonstration that things are moving in the right direction.
“That, of course, is very encouraging but microbeads have always only been one part of the problem – albeit a completely avoidable one. At the moment, there is a growing awareness of the problems posed by plastic pollution and what needs to be done if we are to prevent its continued spread. It is crucial that we continue to spread that message and we all have a role to play in taking action against this global threat to our environment.”
The government ban was signed into law following a lengthy public inquiry to which Professor Thompson, Head of the University’s International Marine Litter Research Unit, was among the scientific contributors.
Before that, microbeads had been used for many years to replace natural exfoliating materials in hand cleansers, toothpaste, shampoo and a range of other products.
However, their increased use also sparked concerns with scientists indicating they were liable to pass through water treatment works and into the environment, where they were likely to be ingested by marine creatures.