On June 8, World Oceans Day, the conservation group Fauna & Flora International announced commitments by nearly all of Britain’s major retailers to phase out microbeads from their cosmetic and beauty products. This is 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.
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 millimeter 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. The microbeads 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 additional effects for the entire food web. Plastics are known to adsorb toxic, bioaccumulating chemicals from surrounding marine environments. The chemicals then concentrate as they pass up the food chain.
Fauna & Flora International also provides a UK and Australian version of the Good Scrub Guide, where concerned shoppers can find out whether a face scrub is plastic-free. Another option is a mobile application by Netherlands-based Plastic Soup Foundation and The North Sea Foundation called Beat the Microbead, which allows customers to scan a product’s barcode and find out whether it contains microplastic.