Greenpeace Shows How Many Companies Are Failing to Ban Microbeads

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CC BY-SA 3.0. Dantor /Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to the world's biggest personal care companies, a new survey shows that there's not much interest in banning these awful microplastics.

Microbeads are bad news, but fortunately most of us know that by now. There has been growing resistance to the miniscule pieces of plastic, added to personal care products for their ability to exfoliate skin, or sometimes just to look pretty in a see-through bottle. These microbeads, however, wreak environmental havoc as soon as they’re washed down the drain. The outcome is described here by campaign group ‘Beat the Microbead’:

“Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out microbeads and that is the main reason why, ultimately, they contribute to the Plastic Soup swirling around the world’s oceans. Sea creatures absorb or eat microbeads. These microbeads are passed along the marine food chain. Since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, it is likely that we are also absorbing microbeads from the food we eat. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove.”

After learning that microplastics have been found in 170 types of seafood, Greenpeace East Asia decided to take action. It launched a survey of 30 of the world’s largest cosmetics and personal care companies, assessing four main criteria:

1) Whether or not these companies have a commitment on microbeads, and whether it’s publicly accessible and easy to read
2) How microbeads are defined for the company’s commitment
3) When the company plans to meet its deadline for the commitment
4) Whether the commitment covers all of the company’s products

The result is the Microbeads Commitment Scorecard, available as an overview and in greater detail. Companies such as Beiersdorf (owner of Nivea and Eucerin), Colgate-Palmolive, L Brands (La Senza, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works), and Henkel (Schwarzkopf and Persil) all scored highest in relation to the other companies; however, all of these top-scorers exhibit microbead commitments that “fall short of an acceptable standard,” mostly because of their definition of microbeads is too narrow and may allow for other, insoluble plastic polymers to be used in products.

At the very bottom of list, in the ‘fail’ category, lie brands such as Revlon, Estée Lauder (MAC), and Amway. The first two have not stated dates for phasing out microbeads and all continue to use plastics in their skin care products.

The good news? You don’t need these brands and their nasty plastic pollution (nor the chemicals that will continue to exist in their products, even if they do get around the banning microbeads.)

There are great alternatives out there that use all-natural, plastic-free ingredients to exfoliate your skin. Some that you may want to investigate are Celtic Complexion’s Gentle Creme Exfoliant (very luxurious and made with jojoba beads), Ethique’s Gingersnap Facial Scrub Bars (they smell like cookies), and Fable Naturals’ Quinoa & Almond Fresh Skin Exfoliant (made with organic oats and almonds). Check out the Good Scrub Guide.