High street brands pledge to phase out microbeads

Plastic on the beach (photo credit: Algalita)

A large number of UK retailers have pledged to phase out plastic microbeads from own-brand cosmetic and beauty products, conservation charity Fauna & Flora International has announced.
The commitments, which were made available on 8 June on the Beat the Microbead website, 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.
This is apparently the first comprehensive and accurate list of all the commitments made by UK manufacturers and retailers, and shows that industry is now taking the matter seriously, says a press release from the group.
“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,” said Tanya Cox, a projects manager with the charity.
“Thanks to dedicated campaigning by organisations like Fauna & Flora International and the Marine Conservation Society, and efforts by the press to raise public awareness, 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,” she added.

What are microbeads, and why should we care?
Used as exfoliants in a range of beauty and cosmetic products (from facial scrubs to toothpastes and even deodorants), microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic less than a millimetre in diameter. Their small size means that they cannot be filtered out during wastewater treatment, so once they are washed down the drain they almost invariably end up in rivers, lakes and seas.
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.
Not only can this cause health problems for these animals directly, it may also have knock-on effects for the entire food web, as plastics are known to adsorb toxic, bioaccumulating chemicals from the surrounding marine environment, which then become more and more concentrated and harmful as they pass up the food chain.
There are a number of natural exfoliants (such as nut kernels) available that work just as well as plastic microbeads, and their use has been pioneered by brands who have always opted for these more sustainable ingredients.
In addition to the public commitments published today, concerned shoppers can also check out the Good Scrub Guide to find out whether their favourite face scrub is plastic free. For those on the go, there is also a mobile app called Beat the Microbead, which allows customers to scan a product’s barcode and find out whether it contains microplastic.