Cosmetics Europe calls for much needed phase out of microplastics – NGOs see scope for further action

A number of conservation NGOs have cautiously welcomed a call by major industry association Cosmetics Europe to its 4,000 members to phase out the use of solid microplastic ingredients in wash-off cosmetic and personal care products.

Following the announcement, Fauna & Flora International, Marine Conservation Society, and Seas at Risk – three NGOs that are working to tackle the problem of microplastic pollution – shared their thoughts on Cosmetics Europe’s recommendations:

While acknowledging its shortcomings, Dan Steadman, Marine Plastics Project Manager at Fauna & Flora International (FFI), welcomed the statement, saying: “Despite limitations regarding the types of microplastics and products considered, we hope that this public recommendation will be an important first step towards the removal of all types of solid microplastic ingredients from all personal care and cosmetic products.”

Applying scrub. Credit: Roger Ingle/FFI.
Facial exfoliator containing microplastics. Credit: Roger Ingle/FFI.

Laura Foster, Head of Pollution at Marine Conservation Society (MCS), added: “Cosmetics Europe’s recommendation is not broad and ambitious enough but it demonstrates a clear willingness to work towards reducing the amount of plastic litter in the marine environment. It represents a logical step, emphasising the widely available alternatives first, towards an all-encompassing discontinuation of unsustainable solid microplastics in personal care and cosmetic products.”

All three organisations believe that the announcement indicates Cosmetics Europe’s willingness to collaborate with the European authorities and international association partners, helping to pave the way for further discussions and progress in tackling this avoidable source of microplastic pollution.

Emma Priestland, Marine Litter Policy Officer of Seas At Risk, explained that more remains to be done: “Plastic has no place in personal care products, and this is a great first step to tackling this source of pollution, but voluntary agreements with a limited scope are not enough. For the next step, it is vital that we secure European-wide legislation to ensure that all plastic is removed from products that go down the sink and into the ocean.”

Face scrub containing microplastics. Credit: Roger Ingle/FFI.
Face scrub containing microplastics. Credit: Roger Ingle/FFI.

A global movement

FFI and MCS have been working constructively and successfully with UK and overseas cosmetics manufacturers and retailers (many of which are members of Cosmetics Europe) for a number of years to encourage them to phase out microplastic ingredients.

As such, both organisations say they are pleased to see more proactive involvement by Cosmetics Europe, and would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the association to strengthen and better implement its recommendation in order to level the playing field for all manufacturers of personal care and cosmetic products.

Microplastics. Credit: Tanya Cox/FFI.
Microplastics. Credit: Tanya Cox/FFI.

Among the companies that have already pledged to phase out microplastics, there are some that have gone one step further by using broader, more inclusive definitions of microplastic ingredients (without loopholes for unspecified marine biodegradability standards), a wider range of products, and more ambitious timelines within their commitments. These companies can act as industry leaders, demonstrating best practice that the whole industry can learn from.

As well as helping to develop best practice across its membership, Cosmetics Europe is also working to achieve global alignment on the issue.

This is very encouraging, especially in light of other positive statements made by trade associations in the US and Canada, and by CIDESCO, the international standard setter for beauty and spa therapy, which has also issued an appeal asking its members to discontinue the use of products containing microplastics.

For more information, download the media release, or visit FFI’s marine plastics page.

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