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Microbeads in cosmetics

Report reveals ‘industry disarray’ and the need for a political ban on microbeads
Microbeads in cosmetics

A new Greenpeace report has ranked the world’s 30 biggest cosmetics and personal care companies on their commitment to tackling the issue of microbeads in their products.

The problem with microbeads

Microbeads are a type of microplastic that can be found in our personal care products such as toothpastes, face washes, scrubs and shower gels.

They are tiny plastic particles that are added for their exfoliating properties, but sometimes for aesthetic purposes only.

Microbeads are so small (under 5mm) that they bypass sewage filtration systems and go straight into the sea, where they can attract toxic chemicals and be consumed by marine life.

‘These plastics go straight down our drains and into the sea. There they can cause serious harm to marine life by being eaten and leaching out toxic chemicals. They can even travel up the food chain and end up in the seafood on our plate – the health consequences of which are still unknown.’

Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK

GSK and Reckitt Benckiser

The UK companies ranked in the report are GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Reckitt Benckiser.

GSK, which owns brands including Sensodyne toothpaste, ranked fifth from bottom in the survey due to its restrictive definition of microbeads and its failure as yet to adopt a formal and transparent commitment to phase out their use.

Reckitt Benckiser, which owns brands such as Dettol and Vanish, placed in the top half of the table – but its commitment to phase out microbeads doesn’t cover all types of plastics or all of their products.

Ranking criteria

The world’s 30 largest personal care companies were surveyed and scored on their microbead commitment, on the basis of four main criteria:

1. Commitment & information transparency: Does the company have commitment on microbeads? Is it publicly available and easy to access?
2. Definition: How does the company define microbeads in its commitment?
3. Deadline: When will the company meet its commitment?
4. Application scope: Does the commitment cover all products in all markets?

‘An industry in disarray’

The report paints a picture of an industry in disarray, with some companies virtually ignoring the issue and others suggesting limited action.

‘When it comes to dealing with microbeads, companies are all over the shop. These are the world’s biggest cosmetics and personal care companies, and not one of them has an acceptable plan to stop the use of microbeads. It’s clear there needs to be political action now to ban microbeads outright.’

Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK

While some companies recognise that the use of microbeads is a serious environmental issue and have pledged to phase out their use, not a single company has a commitment that covers all types of plastic across all of its products.

The result is that all of these companies will be pouring plastic into our oceans for the foreseeable future.

‘The UK Government has already said it agrees that a ban on microbeads is the right way forward. The new Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, has some big challenges ahead of her, but banning microbeads would be a simple and effective way to hit the ground running.’

Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK

Click here to read the full report, ‘Global Cosmetics and Personal Care companies’ Microbead commitment ranking’.

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