UK scientists develop biodegradable alternative for microbeads ahead of ban

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In the UK, scientists at the University of Bath’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies have created biodegradable microbeads out of cellulose that can replace non-renewable microbeads in personal care products.

The researchers dissolved cellulose derived from plants and forced the material through tiny holes in a rolled, tube-shaped membrane to produce spherical droplets. The cellulose droplets hold their shape in soaps and toothpastes, but are easily broken down into sugars either by microbes in treatment plants or in the environment. The cellulose can also be derived from agricultural or paper-manufacturing waste.

The US is banning microbeads beginning next month because the tiny pieces of plastic end up as fish food in lakes and oceans. According to Gizmodo, a single bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s Clean & Clear has over 330,000 of the tiny plastic beads.

Their work was published in a recent issue of ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering journal.