Phase out and eventual ban suggested
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has recommended a phase-out and eventual ban on the use of microplastics in cosmetics and personal care products.
In a study published this week, Plastic in Cosmetics: Are We Polluting the Environment Through our Personal Care?, UNEP suggested that products using these beads be redesigned without the use of plastics in order to reduce potential health threats. It stated that further research was needed to understand the implications of nano- and micro-sized plastics in personal care products and cosmetics on human and marine ecosystems.
Since their introduction into cosmetics 50 years ago, microbeads have become a popular ingredient in cosmetic products. In 2012, 4,360 tonnes of plastic microbeads were used in cosmetics products across the EU. A typical exfoliating shower gel can contain as much plastic in its formulation as is used to make the packaging it comes in. However, unlike packaging, microbeads are poured down the drain after use and cannot be recycled. Much of this waste is mixed up with sewage and applied as fertiliser to agricultural land or dumped at sea.
UNEP said that there was growing evidence of the toxic effects these particles have on biological organisms. It also raised concerns about secondary health impacts via the food chain, including to humans who consume seafood.
Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and The Body Shop have already announced their intention to stop using microbreads in their products. Illinois was the first US state to implement a ban on the manufacture and sale of products containing microbeads, with legislation due to come into force in 2018. The Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Sweden have issued a joint call to ban the use of microbeads in cosmetics across the EU.