Beauty industry’s microplastic pledges made public

Beauty industry’s microplastic pledges made public
Is your beauty routine killing our oceans
A number of leading UK retailers have pledged to phase out plastic microbeads from own-brand cosmetic and beauty products, it has been announced, in an effort to stem the damage they are causing to marine wildlife.

The commitments, which have been made publicly available on the Beat the Microbead website in recognition of World Oceans Day today (8 June), show where leading high street and online retailers stand on the issue of microplastic pollution, which is believed to be a major threat to marine wildlife.

Polythene microspheres are popular as exfoliating agents, and are found in many cosmetic products, including face and body washes and toothpaste. They are so small that they cannot be captured in wastewater treatment systems, and usually wind up in watercourses.

Mounting evidence suggests that microplastics can harm marine wildlife as they become embedded in ecosystems and are eaten by a range of sea life, from shellfish to seabirds.

The information on the Beat the Microbead website represents the ‘first comprehensive and accurate list of all the commitments made by UK manufacturers and retailers’, according to conservation charity Fauna & Flora International, and shows that industry ‘is now taking the matter seriously’.

‘Clear that legislation is needed’

Tanya Cox, Projects Manager for Marine Plastics at Fauna & Flora International, said: “Three years ago, hardly anyone in the UK knew about plastic microbeads in cosmetics or the impact they have on marine wildlife, but today the situation is very different.

“Thanks to dedicated campaigning… this issue is now very much in the public consciousness with thousands of people actively putting pressure on their favourite brands to phase out microbeads.

“However, while it’s encouraging that brands are making these statements voluntarily, it is clear that legislation is still needed to level the playing field and ensure that brands really do meet their commitments – now and into the future.”  

Campaigners insist that some natural exfoliants (such as nut kernels) work just as well as plastic microbeads, and consumers concerned with microbeads can check out the Good Scrub Guide to find out whether a face scrub is plastic free. There is also a Beat the Microbead mobile app, which allows customers to scan a product’s barcode and find out whether it contains microplastic.

Ocean plastic problems

The problem of oceanic plastic extends beyond microplastics, with two United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports from last year finding that the amount of plastic waste that has entered marine ecostystems costs US$13 billion (£7.7 billion) in damage annually. Andrew Russell Director of the Plastic Disclosure Project, said: “Companies need to consider their plastic footprint, just as they do for carbon, water and forestry.”

Although efforts to clean oceanic gyres of the plastic that tends to accumulate in them have often been deemed impossible, The Ocean Cleanup is set to launch the ‘world’s first’ ocean clean-up system next year off the coast of Tsushima Island in the Korea Strait.

Read more about the problem of marine litter and recent recycling efforts.