Plastic microbeads are sometimes used in toothpastes as glitter or polisher ©123RF
Plastic microbeads are sometimes used in toothpastes as glitter or polisher ©123RF

Personal care firms not coming clean on microbeads, says Greenpeace

Greenpeace is calling for a total ban on the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetic products, saying self imposed pledges are not working.

Microbeads are small pieces of plastic less than five millimeter wide, often added to toothpastes, scrubs and other cosmetic products for their exfoliating effect or for aesthetics.

The particles are too small to be filtered out by sewage treatment plants and as a result are often washed into seas or rivers where they have been found to damage ecosystems. Microbeads have also been found in seafood.

The USA has already banned the sale of products containing microbeads, and Canada is working on legislation to do the same.

A petition to ban the use of microbeads in the UK has reached 330,000.

However, Greenpeace says the brands who claim to be voluntarily ending their use of microbeads are “creating loopholes” by using their own “narrow or confusing definitions of what constitutes a microbead”.

“These definitions can vary from function of the product, rold of the microbead and even the shape of the microbead, creating loopholes that could allow the inclusion of microbeads that don’t fit into these limited definitions,” said Greenpeace.

Greenpeace has also ranked 30 of the largest cosmetic and personal care brands on their efforts to end the use of microbeads.

Each company was given a score out of 400 based on their transparency, their definition of microbeads, the scope of products they are including and the deadline they have set themselves.

Four companies came joint first. Beiersdorf, Colgate-Palmolive, L Brands and Henkel all received a score of 340.

Edgewell Personal Care came bottom of the list with a score of zero because the “they did not respond to the survey and no publicly available information was found”, Greenpeace said.

However, in a statement Edgewell said: “Edgewell Personal Care did not participate in the Greenpeace survey as we do not incorporate the use of microbeads in any of our wide-range of personal care products.”

Greenpeace's criticisms include:

  • Limiting the commitment to remove microbeads to certain products or types of product
  • Specifying microbeads for a certain function, such as exfoliation, and not all functions
  • Limiting their definition to just one type or shape of plastic
  • Having a lower size limit or not specifying if all sizes are being removed

Greenpeace's microbead commitment ranking:

Top three places

Joint first:

Beiersdorf, Colgate-Palmolive, L Brands, Henkel

Joint second:

Clarins, Unilever Group, Botica Comercial, Oriflame Cosmetics, Shiseido Co, Avon Products Inc, Coty Inc, Kao Corp

Joint third:

Natural Cosmeticos, Reckitt Benckiser Group, Amore-Pacific, L’Oreal Group

Bottom three

Twelfth:

Amway

Thirteenth:

Revlon

Fourteenth:

Edgewell Personal Care Brands

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