EcoWaste Coalition Urges Industry to Voluntarily Remove Plastic Microbeads in Personal Care and Cosmetic Products

 From the “Beat the Microbead,” 5 Gyres Institute PSA

From the Alliance for the Great Lakes

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental and health watch
group, challenged manufacturers of personal care and cosmetic products (PCCPs)
to voluntarily terminate their use of plastic microbeads for the fishes’ sake.
The group specifically asked companies using
polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate  polymethyly methacrylate, nylon and other
plastic materials as microbeads in PCCPs to opt for non-polluting alternatives
“As part of their corporate social and environmental
responsibility, we urge manufacturers to switch to naturally biodegradable
substitutes to plastic microbeads as scrubbing components in PCCPs such as
facial cleansers,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s
Project Protect.
“We need to stop polluting our rivers and seas in the
name of ‘personal care’ with these microplastics that can suck up toxic
chemicals, which are then pass into the fish who mistake them for food,” he
The appeal came on the heels of a newly-released study
showing “evidence that plastic microbeads from personal care products are
capable of transferring absorbed pollutants to fish that ingest them.”
The study, conducted by scientists from RMIT University
in Australia and the Hainan University in China and published in the
Environmental Science and Technology Journal, showed that up to 12.5 percent of
polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on microbeads from facial cleansers were
assimilated by fish following particle ingestion.
In the controlled laboratory experiment, the researchers
fed rainbow fish from Murray River, Australia’s longer river, with microbeads
from facial cleansers that were spiked with PBDEs.
PBDEs, which are used as flame retardant chemicals in
foam and plastic products including electronics, are known endocrine disruptors
with studies in animals indicating that these chemicals can disrupt thyroid
hormone balance and lead to reduced learning capacity, hyperactive behavior and
other neurological and developmental  problems.
“We know generally that if someone eats a fish, they
risk eating any pollution that may be in the fish,” stated Dr. Bradley
Clarke, lead investigator and environmental scientist at RMIT University, who
said that “microbeads should never have been in products in the first place.”
“We shouldn’t have to wait one or two years for
these products to be banned, because in that time, billions more microbeads
will be released into the environment. It would be nice to see an immediate
ban, and the companies investing money into remediation costs,” she said.
To assist consumers in choosing products without
microplastics, the EcoWaste Coalition asked cosmetics companies to declare that
their products are 100 percent free of plastic microbeads and other plastic
ingredients that have replaced natural options.
The group cited the “Plastics in Cosmetics” fact sheet
published by the United Nations Environment Programme stating that “plastic
ingredients in PCCPs that are poured down the drain after use, cannot be
collected for recycling (unlike the packaging, which can be recycled).”
“The plastic ingredients do not decompose in wastewater
treatment systems, which can be lacking in large parts of the world. The
ingredients are emitted via raw sewage, treated effluents or with sewage sludge
applied as fertilizer (biosolids) on agricultural land, landfilled or dumped at
sea,” UNEP said.
“Given the associated potential risks of microplastics, a
precautionary approach is recommended toward microplastic management, with the
eventual phase-out and ban in PCCPs,” it said.
To address the problem with microplastics in PCCPs, UNEP
suggested  that producers take the
potential impact of product ingredients on the natural environment into account
during the design phase and eliminate use of microplastics, and that consumers
should avoid buying products that contain such microplastics.
UNEP also recommended that governments should promote the
phase-out of microplastics in PCCPs, while underscoring the need for further
research to better understand the implications of nano- and micro-sized
plastics in PCCPs on human and marine ecosystem health, especially through
ingestion and chemical transfer through the food chain.