So two of the reasons we’re making our own beauty and hygiene products are to reduce the amount of plastic packaging we throw away or put into recycling and to reduce the impact of harmful chemicals such as BPA which leach into the products and onto our skin but there’s a third. Inside the bottles of lotion and toothpaste lurks plastic in the form of microbeads and polyethylene. I was pretty surprised when I found this out and immediately stopped buying my favorite Soap & Glory ™ body scrub – a very sad day. The tiny polyethylene and polypropylene microbeads that make my arms and legs so silky smooth can’t be filtered out by water systems so stay in lakes and oceans poisoning fish and whatnot.
It’s not just sea life these beads are harmful to. The beads act as magnets for other toxins and chemicals which if eaten by fish enter into the food chain, ending up in humans. Thankfully they shouldn’t be around for much longer! In June 2014, Illinois became the first U.S state to introduce a phasing out of products containing the beads. Off the back of campaigning by 5Gyres major players in the hygiene and cosmetics industry have committed to removing microbeads from all their products – cos who wants to wash their face with plastic? Karin Ross of the Personal Care Products Council who helped draft the legislation in Illinois says ‘it’s a positive first step’. She’s certainly right on both counts; the move is positive and it’s only a first step.
The L’Oreal group, which includes brands The Body Shop, Garnier, Diesel and Redken as well as others, is set to have the microbeads phased out by 2017. Johnson & Johnson, aka Neutrogena and Piz Buin, have set the same date. Unilever which includes consumer brands Dove, Simple, Radox and St Ives, is aiming for 2015. A full list of companies following suit can be found here.
Alternatives which are being researched include cocoa beans, sand and apricot seeds. Although it’s not all plain sailing once these dates pass. Some posed alternatives, such as burnt sugar, can potentially harm the environment. There’ll be a shift in balance of the economy in producer countries so potentially a seemingly good deed here in Bristol can harm Mexican farmers and their families. These are issues that seriously need to be addressed by campaigners before shouts of victory are called.
There are problems with the legislation itself. Are fines such as $2,500 a day a big enough deterrent for large corporations with a huge amount of extra cash to fritter? Unilevers turnover last year was €49.8bn. It also strikes me as a long time before companies phase out these products leaving the ocean and food chain open to significant amounts of destruction.
As of January 2010, New York will be able to boast it’s own bill banning microbead plastic in cosmetic products. Ohio became the third U.S. state to introduce similar legislation and California are on their way to being the fourth. Frank Pallone Jr. is pushing for the legislation to go nationwide by 2018.
Over in Europe the Dutch are behind a campaign to bring about similar measures in Europe. For this campaign to be effective we need to come at those microbeads from all angles. Write to your local MP to raise the issue in Parliament (see campaigns page for a template letter); spam the companies who haven’t yet committed to phasing out plastic from their products; and boycott anything with microbeads in it! Beat the Bead have developed a handy app for identifying what contains microbeads.
All these marvellous initiatives mean that hopefully we won’t have to make our own things for long and I can get back to the delights of Soap & Glory
See our Campaigns page for more information on how you can help and get involved.
I began research for this post with a simple search of two key terms ‘Illinois’ and ‘plastic’. All that achieved was reams of pages concerning plastic surgery. I hadn’t considered plastic use of this kind before and whilst for many plastic surgery is undertaken as part of an aesthetic decision I personally wouldn’t many make – it’s your body and you may do with it what you please – but for many plastic surgery is less of a choice and more of a necessity. Terri has posted about the benefits of shrilk, use for medicinal purposes being one of them. Perhaps we need to look into the healthcare industry and how it approaches it’s plastic waste and consumption.