Fauna & Flora International (FFI), who have campaigned on the issue in conjunction with the Marine Conservation Society, point out that commitments from the retailers have been made publicly available on the Beat the Microbead website. This shows where leading high street and online retailers stand on the issue of microplastic pollution.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) say retailers who stock and sell personal care products that contain tiny particles of plastic may have finally realised that washes, scrubs, gels and pastes made from natural products are just as effective and won't damage our seas.
Microplastics are too small to be trapped in sewage works and are ending up in the sea where they can be ingested by zooplankton and other animals, which in turn are eaten by creatures further up the food chain - and ultimately, people.
"Three years ago, hardly anyone in the UK knew about plastic microbeads in cosmetics or the impact they have on marine wildlife, but today the situation is very different," said Tanya Cox, Projects Manager for Marine Plastics at Fauna & Flora International.
"Thanks to dedicated campaigning by organisations like Fauna & Flora International and the Marine Conservation Society, and efforts by the press to raise public awareness, this issue is now very much in the public consciousness with thousands of people actively putting pressure on their favourite brands to phase out microbeads."
Among the retailers who have pledged to get rid of plastics from their own brand personal care products are Waitrose, Boots, Asda, Marks & Spencer, Superdrug, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Cooperative, Lush, Morrisons, and L'Occitane.
Discussions are still underway with Aldi and Lidl but MCS hopes they too will set a date for plastic free own-brand products.
FFI's Tanya Cox continued: "It's really fantastic to see the UK industry responding in such a positive way to this feedback from their customers, with retailers and manufacturers alike committing publicly to phase out these unsustainable ingredients."
"However, while it's encouraging that brands are making these statements voluntarily, it is clear that legislation is still needed to level the playing field and ensure that brands really do meet their commitments – now and into the future," she added.
FFI have been working with cosmetics manufacturers on microplastic pollution for several years and launched the Good Scrub Guide to harness consumer power and dissuade companies from using these ingredients. Through this, they and partners, including MCS, have been able to secure a number of high-profile commitments from multi-national corporations to phase out plastic microbeads.
However plastic-free skin care is already a reality. Some brands have never used microplastics, including Ali Mac Skincare, ALL NATURAL SOAP Co., ARK Skincare, all brands of Botanical Brands, Bulldog Skincare For Men, Elements Natural Skincare For Men, Green People, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Palmer’s, PHB Ethical Beauty, Sodashi, Sukin and Trilogy.
Dr Laura Foster, Pollution Programme Manager at the MCS says the Scrub it Out! Campaign will now move on to luxury personal care products: “It’s possible that consumers assume the more expensive the product the better is for you, and the more natural the ingredients it contains. But we don’t believe this is always the case. A supporter of MCS contacted Olay regarding the polyethylene listed in a face wash she uses and was told that as polyethylene is commonly used they won’t be phasing it out until alternatives are identified and qualified. We’ll be contacting the company to explain why a delay is detrimental to the ocean.”
What are microbeads, and why should we care?
Used as exfoliants in a range of beauty and cosmetic products (from facial scrubs to toothpastes and even deodorants), microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic less than a millimetre in diameter. Their small size means that they cannot be filtered out during wastewater treatment, so once they are washed down the drain they almost invariably end up in our rivers, lakes and seas.
Mounting evidence suggests that microplastics can harm marine wildlife as they become embedded in ecosystems and are eaten by a range of sea life, from shellfish to seabirds.
Not only can this cause health problems for these animals directly, it may also have knock-on effects for the entire food web, as plastics are known to adsorb toxic, bioaccumulating chemicals from the surrounding marine environment, which then become more and more concentrated and harmful as they pass up the food chain.
There are a number of natural exfoliants - such as nut kernels - available that work just as well as plastic microbeads, and their use has been pioneered by brands who have always opted for these more sustainable ingredients.
In addition to the public commitments recently published, concerned shoppers can also check out the Good Scrub Guide to find out whether their favourite face scrub is plastic free. For those on the go, there is also a mobile app called Beat the Microbead, which allows customers to scan a product's barcode and find out whether it contains microplastic.
The Good Scrub Guide was created by Fauna & Flora International to help consumers avoid plastic microbeads by providing clear, unbiased information on which products are microplastic-free. Working in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society in the UK and the Surfrider Foundation in Australia, the Good Scrub Guide is now freely available for both UK and Australian consumers and features the most common facial exfoliators available on the market.
The Good Scrub Guide
Beat the Microbead
FFI - Marine Plastic Pollution
MCS - Scrub it out!
Plastic Soup Foundation