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Hands with scrub - Credit: Roger Ingle/FFI

Microbeads causing macro damage to our oceans

Posted on: 19.12.13 (Last edited) 19 December 2013

A guide to help you choose products for the health of your skin – and our seas

The upcoming holiday period is a perfect time to relax and pamper yourself, but be careful the products you use aren’t costing the Earth – literally.

The plethora of beauty products consumers buy, especially at this time of year, may be doing our skin some good, but they’re having a devastating effect on the marine environment.

Whether it’s spending time on yourself, or buying a gift for a loved one, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) are asking you to be aware this Christmas, and ensure the products you choose will not harm the health of our oceans.

Applying scrub. Credit: Roger Ingle/FFI.

Do you know what you're washing down the drain? Credit: Roger Ingle/FFI.

Many personal care products like exfoliating scrubs and facial peels contain microbeads – tiny plastic particles – that, once rinsed off your face, go down the sink and into our seas, contributing to the huge problem of plastic pollution.

“It’s incredible how many everyday products contain micro plastic beads. These find their way through our sewers and into our seas where they are easily eaten by all sorts of marine animals and could ultimately end up back in the human food chain. These bits of plastic are so small that our sewage works cannot deal with them, so when used they are essentially washed straight out to sea,” Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Litter Policy Officer said.

Although a number of leading manufacturers of beauty products have already stopped or have promised to phase out the use of microbeads in peels, scrubs and washes, (including Unilever, Lush and the Body Shop) many are still using them.

FFI and MCS say shoppers can play an important role in helping to put pressure on manufacturers who have not yet taken action on the issue of microbeads in their products. Consumers can check out those products already free of beads by using The Good Scrub Guide.

Tanya Cox, FFI’s Marine Plastics Officer said, “Microplastic pollution is having a profound impact on the health of our oceans and demands urgent attention. FFI is really encouraged to see leading UK retailers and producers of personal care products proactively replacing damaging microplastic exfoliants with biodegradable alternatives and urge all companies to take such positive action to minimise this source of microplastic pollution.”

FFI and MCS are working together to champion positive action on behalf of forward thinking companies who actively remove microplastics from their product lines.

The Good Scrub Guide along with the Beat the Microbead App are already helping to keep people informed about plastic-free products available – with consumers encouraged to share information on products that do and don’t contain plastic.

If you’re out doing your Christmas shopping have a look at the ingredients labels before you buy. Those with plastics will have some of these ingredients listed:

  • Polyethylene / Polythene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
  • Nylon

If you spot one of these in the ingredients list, fill in this short online form, and we’ll take care of the rest.

Written by
Ally Catterick

Ally worked in media management and PR for clients including comedians Eddie Izzard and Ed Byrne before becoming Publicity Manager for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Strategy and communications for conservation organisation Greening Australia and her role as Unit and Company Publicist for production company Roving Enterprises followed, until she was introduced to Fauna & Flora International (FFI) upon their arrival in Australia in 2008. Ally became a founding board member – until moving to the UK to become the organisation's Communications Manager. Ally is now FFI's Deputy Director of Communications and oversees all communications for FFI globally.

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...shoppers can play an important role in helping to put pressure on manufacturers who have not yet taken action on the issue of microbeads in their products

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