Help Beat the Microbead!
Updated: Jul 9, 2019
This week’s PhotoGenie theme is titled 'What You Don’t Sea'.
Through visual stories, our curators research the question “How has human activity been impacting our oceans?”
Stemming from John Elkington’s sustainability principle of people, planet, and profit, Lizette Schaap created the series SEAFOOD in 2017. The series showcases the effect of plastic pollution on the ocean ecosystem.
Several products we use for washing and cleaning contain microplastics: pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters that can enter the environment through defragmentation of large plastics or directly through synthetic clothing or tire wear. The cosmetics industry calls these particles microbeads. Microbeads are found in products such as shampoo, toothpaste and shower scrubs, but can also be found in make-up, sunburn lotions, and moisturizers. One scrub can contain over 100.000 microbeads! Microbeads are so small, we can hardly discern them with the naked eye. Neither can sewage treatment plants.
When washing our synthetic clothes, tiny microfibers are let loose in the washing machine. These synthetic little threads are too small to be filtered by the sewer system and end up in the ocean. Both microbeads and microfibers can harm the ocean environment tremendously. Species such as mussels, coquilles, and oysters filter the water and are unable to distinguish microplastics from food. Also, many fish species mistakenly take these small pieces of plastic for food. Processing microplastic takes a lot of energy and harms the intestinal tract, which makes the fish less efficient in eating other foods. Bigger pieces of plastic, such as the remainders of a plastic balloon or a plastic bag, can close up the gastrointestinal tract of the fish, which will cause their death. The longer these kind of pieces of plastic are in the ocean, the more toxic they get, for plastic acts as a sponge to diverse poisonous substances. These microplastics do not decompose, and once they enter the ocean environment, they cannot be removed or controlled.
Lizette Schaap isolated microbeads from a facewash by using a towel. These tiny particles created the dots on the first photos of the series. In the second part of her series, she created animals out of plastic items that could have gotten lost in the sea. These animals are viewed as seafood, however, they can contain huge amounts of toxic plastics. This way, these plastics move higher up the food chain. And it is, therefore, possible that we find the plastic we use back on our plate. With the photo series SEAFOOD, Schaap wants to create awareness of plastic pollution in the sea. Microplastics are harmful to sea animals, as well as to ourselves.
What can we do to stop this pollution? In 2012, the Plastic Soup Foundation started campaigning against microbeads with the campaign Beat the Microbead. This campaign is now widely supported by NGO’s from countries worldwide. Besides fighting against the use of microbeads, the foundation rewards cosmetic brands that produce products free of microplastics, by granting them the Plastic Soup Foundation’s ‘Zero Plastic Inside’ logo. So far, 61 brands are proud to showcase the Zero logo on their packaging.
So what can you do? Check out the website of the Beat the Microbead campaign for a list of microplastic free products organized by country. You can take a look at which products that you normally use, could be replaced by plastic-free alternatives. When in the supermarket, look for the zero logo and help the Plastic Soup Foundation Beat the Microbead!
For the Dutchies among us: check out Plastic Whale Foundation. These modern-day sailors are cleaning up the canals in a fun and adventurous way. If you are planning a party or a work trip, consider a plastic fishing contest for a change, and enjoy Amsterdam from a new perspective. You will be battling plastic pollution at the same time!
About the artist: Lizette Schaap is a Dutch photographer from Haarlem who lives and works in Alkmaar. She has completed two bachelors, one in build environment and one in photography at the Photo Academy Amsterdam. In 2016, her portfolio was awarded ‘New Dutch Photography Talent 2016’. The series SEAFOOD won silver and received honourable mentions in the Tokyo International Photo Awards (TW).
Lizette Schaap believes our speed of living and our overconsumption harms us and the environment. By living in the present, being aware of consumption habits and creating awareness among others, Schaap attempts to maintain an equilibrium between people, planet and profit. Her photography has been referred to as wonderfully simplistic and effective in tackling daily issues.
Let us know what you think in the comments! Our weekly themes always include three photo series by different photographers.
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Written by Myrthe Peek