Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has added its voice to a petition calling on British Prime Minister David Cameron to ban the use of plastic microbeads.

These tiny pieces of plastic are often used as exfoliants in a range of personal care and cosmetic products such as face scrubs and toothpastes, and concern is mounting over the impact these microbeads (which are designed to wash down the drain but are too small to filter out during wastewater treatment) could be having on marine wildlife.

The petition is being spearheaded by Greenpeace UK, with support from other leading environmental NGOs. Public support for the petition has been growing rapidly and is on course to reach 200,000 signatures.

From obscurity to the limelight

Fauna & Flora International was one of the first environmental NGOs to raise the alarm about microbeads in 2012, and has been working constructively with cosmetics manufacturers and high-street retailers ever since to persuade them to phase out these ingredients.

In 2013, FFI launched the Good Scrub Guide to help consumers choose face scrubs that are free of microbeads – offering people the chance to vote with their wallets and tell manufacturers and retailers that they won’t buy products containing microplastics.

FFI also supported the development of an app that allows consumers to scan a product’s barcode to check for microbeads.

FFI later partnered with the Marine Conservation Society to promote the Good Scrub Guide, and the two organisations launched the Scrub it Out! campaign, which asked consumers to sign a pledge to go microplastic free. In Australia, FFI has joined forces with Surfrider Foundation to launch the Good Scrub Guide – Australia.

To date, FFI has received 11 commitments from UK and international companies pledging to phase out microplastics from their products and statements from a further 19 companies that they do not currently use microplastic ingredients and will not in the future.

Polyethylene. Credit Roger Ingle/FFI.

Despite some good progress, many cosmetic and beauty products still contain microplastic ingredients such as polyethylene. Credit Roger Ingle/FFI.

“Collaboration has been absolutely key to the success of our work to address the use of microbeads,” said Daniel Steadman, Marine Plastics Projects Manager at FFI.
“By working with other NGOs, scientists, consumers, trade associations and – crucially – the brands themselves, we have moved from a situation where few had even heard of microbeads to one where people are aware and actively campaigning against these ingredients.

“But despite the many successes we have seen, there are still brands that have not committed to removing microplastic ingredients, or who have failed to meet their commitments. For this reason, we are supporting the petition to David Cameron, as effective legislation in the UK and across Europe will level the playing field – ensuring that the commitments made by manufacturers are not only binding, but also broad and inclusive enough to tackle the problem effectively.”

Want to help? Sign the petition.