Beautiful? Your cosmetics could be killing marine wildlife

June 08, 2015


Plastic in cosmetic and beauty products must be outlawed to slash the toll taken on marine wildlife, the government has been urged.

Tiny plastic beads are a commonplace ingredient in a range of beauty products, particularly, exfolients and scrubs, but are proving a toxic mix for marine animals including turtles and albatrosses.

However, several high street retailers have already agreed to ban or phase out microbeads from their products and conservation groups are using World Oceans Day [June 8] to launch a roll of honour to highlight them.

Among the retailers to promise to avoid microbeads in their own-brand products are Neal’s Yard Remedies, Marks & Spencer, and Asda.

However, conservation group Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is leading calls in the UK for new laws to be introduced to ban the use of microbeads.

The demands are part of a growing international movement to stop plastic polluting the oceans. Last month the issue of micro plastics, any piece of plastic smaller than 5mm, was raised by European Commissioner Karmenu Vella who called for more recycling and recognised the “role of the consumer” in deciding if they should use or boycott specific products.

The microbeads are typically 0.0004 to 1.24 mm long and wash into the seas in their billions because they are too small to be filtered out at sewage treatment plants.

At least eight million tonnes of plastic are estimated to be dumped or washed into the seas each year and five trillion separate pieces, many of them microbeads, weighing 269,000 tonnes are calculated to be floating in the oceans.

One recent study at the Plymouth University Marine Institute concluded that plastic is to blame for 92 per cent of recorded cases of marine animals eating or getting entangled in man-made rubbish. Overall, 693 species have been identified as suffering from the effects of man-made debris and almost one in six were on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

The United Nations Environment Program has estimated the annual cost of plastic pollution to marine ecosystems as $13 billion and in Europe alone it costs €630m a year to clean up plastics on beaches.

Dilyana Mihaylova, of FFI, said: “We need legislation banning the use of microbeads. We would like to see legislation that levels the playing field for all businesses and retailers. There are alternatives – you can see this from all the companies that have never used microbeads or have taken the pledge to stop using them. It doesn’t affect the quality of the product.”

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is among the groups to have published a roll of honour of firms that either keep microbeads out of products or have pledged to do so within months. The Beat the Microbead campaign is another

Dr Laura Foster, Pollution Programme Manager at MCS, was also encouraged by the willingness of the public to pledge to boycott products containing microbeads: “Thousands of members of the public have pledged to ditch products which contain microplastics, whilst we decided to focus on UK retailers to give a date when all their own-brand products would be plastic free.”

Among the names of plastics listed on packaging that means a product contains microbeads are polyethylene/polythene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), Nylon and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).

More news