At the end of last year, US President Barack Obama signed a ban on the sale and distribution of products containing these microparticles, as part of his plan to protect the country's waterways and other waterways.
In Australia, the Environment Ministry announced a "voluntary departure" for 2018 of all products containing these small spheres. And recently, the environmental organization Greenpeace managed to collect in a matter of weeks more than 140,000 signatures for the British government to also ban them.
The reason for the apparent sudden concern about these tiny polymers is because recent studies indicate that billions of these microparticles end up each year in the sea and other waterways.
While microparticles have industrial and scientific applications, they are mostly used as abrasives in a variety of cosmetic and personal care products, such as toothpastes and scrubs.
In each application, there are tens of thousands of these balls that end up in wastewater.
The microparticles have been found in rivers and seas around the world.
Even in the salt
Due to their size, they go unnoticed by treatment plants and end up being dumped and ingested by all kinds of marine animals.
A study published last November in Environmental Science & Technology discovered these particles are even found in sea salt.
"The highest levels of contamination from this plastic were found in salt taken from the oceans," wrote the East China University researchers.
These spheres are used as substitutes for scrubs and natural abrasives such as sand, nuts, and seeds.
Juan Bellas, specialist in Ecotoxicology and Marine Pollution at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, explains that these polymers do not represent chemical damage.
"The damage is mechanical, because when ingested by marine organisms, they can cause damage to the digestive system," he told BBC Mundo.
Bellas points out that in her studies she has found microplastic particles in fish far from the coast.
"The incidence is 15%," he adds.
Although these polymers themselves are not harmful, the expert clarifies that "what can be toxic are the additives that accompany these microplastics, such as retardants and plasticizers."
"They can cause hormonal alterations in marine organisms and affect the neurological system."
However, Bellas clarifies that very little is still known about the impact of these polymers.
The other problem is that, according to experts, these microparticles, once in the water, act like sponges, absorbing toxins.
Fish that eat eggs end up eating these spheres and, according to the American Foundation Conservation Education, "there are studies that suggest that when fish and other aquatic organisms consume this plastic, the chemicals present in these particles can bioaccumulate in their bodies. , which means they can be passed up the food chain to larger fish, other animals, and humans as well. "