I close my eyes and instead of falling asleep I see this: “Talc, Mica, Magnesium Stearate, Polyethylene…” – one of the thousands of product ingredient lists I had meticulously combed through. This particular one came from a make-up product and stood out to me because it raised so many excellent questions about the scale of the microbead pollution problem (or microplastic ingredients as I prefer to call them after spending years on developing robust definitions).
For example, how do we assess whether the common plastic ingredients – polyethylene, nylon, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – that I keep seeing listed on make-up and skincare products, such as face powders, eyeshadows and moisturisers, end up in the ocean as tiny plastic particles that threaten sea life? Evidence suggests many of these products are washed off down the drain when we shower or use the sink, just like the face scrubs and toothpastes in which microplastic ingredient use is now banned across the UK.
Within the Marine Plastics team at Fauna & Flora International (FFI), we have been discussing this question at length with a wide range companies, scientists and product formulators and summarised all of the evidence we gathered in detailed guidelines for policymakers and companies interested in fully addressing the problem of plastic pollution emanating from product ingredients. Back in 2016 these guidelines were formally recommended by the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, which called on the UK government to ban microbead use, as well as by the world-renowned plastic pollution expert Richard Thompson.
And it is not just UK policymakers who are paying attention. Over the past year, we have been invited by the European Chemicals Agency to provide it with technical expertise as it develops proposals for EU legislation relating to polluting plastic ingredients. These proposals have just been published, and it is really encouraging to see that some of our guidelines have clearly been taken into consideration.