The long awaited ban of plastic microbeads came into effect today. Some people have been surprised to learn that glass powders have many advantages as an alternative.
Announcing the ban, environment minister Thérèse Coffey said:
“The world’s seas and oceans are some of our most valuable natural assets and I am determined we act now to tackle the plastic that devastates our precious marine life.
“Microbeads are entirely unnecessary when there are so many natural alternatives available, and I am delighted that from today cosmetics manufacturers will no longer be able to add this harmful plastic to their rinse-off products.”
Glass powders are one such alternative. Nick Kirk, technical director at British Glass explains:
“Smooth, fine glass powder for cosmetics can be created from recycled glass – avoiding use of precious virgin raw materials, and the energy consumption of extracting and processing them. And as glass itself is around 75% silica sand, if it ends up in wastewater system and eventually the sea it acts just as sand would.
"In fact – in Florida, recycled glass powder has been used to combat beach erosion, avoiding the damage to reefs and wildlife that can be caused by dredging."
Just how biologically benign glass is becomes clear when you appreciate how widely it’s used in medical products. Modern smart glasses are used throughout the body - from artificial joints and bone reconstruction to dental repairs and even in some toothpastes. Nick is one of the authors of a paper on smartglass coatings on joint implants, which presents the benefits of glass for such medical applications
The idea of glass powder in cosmetics surprises many consumers, but fine glass flakes are already used in some cosmetics to reflect light and provide sparkle.
The use of glass beads in cosmetics can not only reduce the environmental impact of the product after disposal, but can actually enhance the product.
The fascinating properties of soluble borosilicate glasses are particularly exciting, as Chris Sorsby, general Manager of british Glass member VitrTech Ltd explains:
"We can precisely control the particle size of our soluble glass powders. Additionally, soluble glasses can incorporate additives such as silver which has antibacterial properties, and by tweaking the composition we can alter the rate it dissolves at. It is possible to manufacture glasses which dissolve from a few seconds to a number of years. The applications of glass are endless in cosmetic and medical applications."
Nick Kirk said:
“There’s more to glass than windows and bottles. Getting manufacturers to look at modern, smart glasses that enhance products offers exciting possibilities. Adapting to challenges is often what sparks improvement – and I’m sure this ban will do just that."
VitriTech Limited is a manufacturer of phosphate glass and specialist glass products. The main areas of business are in the precision photonics and controlled release technology markets. Alongside the manufacturing arm of the business, Vitritech Limited also works on a number of development projects focusing on specialist glass compositions and devices.
 Baino, Marshall, Kirk and,Vitale-Brovaronea, 2016. Design, selection and characterization of novel glasses and glass-ceramics for use in prosthetic applications. Ceramics International. Volume 42, Issue 1, Part B. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272884215018027