Are you polluting the oceans every time you exfoliate? If you’re sloughing off with a product from one of the world’s largest personal-care companies, chances are you’re funneling thousands of tiny plastic spheres down the drain for the sake of your baby-smooth skin. Dubbed microbeads, these minuscule abrasives are generally too small to be captured by wastewater filtration. Instead, they drift out to sea, where they’re mistaken for food by fish and other marine life. But despite forthcoming bans in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus growing calls for the same in the European Union, a ranking of 30 of the biggest brands in the cosmetic industry by Greenpeace East Asia demonstrates why formal legislation must sometimes supersede voluntary corporate commitments.
“There’s no single bad player, the industry as a whole is failing to regulate the use of microplastics everyday products,” Taehyun Park, cceans campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said in a statement. “Companies claim to have microbeads under control but this is simply not true. As a result of weak corporate commitments, trillions of microbeads from personal care products enter our oceans every day.”
Greenpeace scored the companies, using survey responses and publicly available data, based on four main criteria: commitment and information transparency (“Does the company have [a] commitment on microbeads? Is it publicly available adn easy to access?”), definition (“How does the company define microbeads for their commitment?”), deadline (“When will the company meet their commitment?”), and application scope (“Does the commitment cover all products in all markets?”).
While some companies scored higher in Greenpeace’s rankings than others, not one received full marks for eliminating microbeads from their inventory.
Noting the widely disparate scores received by Colgate-Palmolive, Estée Lauder, L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever, the environmental group said that the industry at large is reneging on its collective responsibility.
“Voluntary regulation by the industry is clearly not good enough. Not only is the industry continuing to pollute the oceans but it also creates confusion for consumers who are exposed to a dizzying array of different promises from personal care companies,” Park said. “A legislative ban on microplastics in consumer products is the only way to ensure that these unnecessary pollutants are stopped from entering our oceans. Some countries have already taken action to ban microbeads. We urge the rest to follow suit.”