cosmetica industrie cosmetics companies
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How British cosmetics companies try to wriggle out of the microbead ban

Amsterdam, 11 October 2017 – The United Kingdom, officially still a member of the European Union, notified the European Commission about its proposal to ban plastic microbeads in cosmetics and toiletries. The British government is banning the use of microbeads in cosmetics and toiletries on 1 January 2018 and the sale of these products on 1 July 2018 on the grounds that they endanger sea life. The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) responded to this notification on 15 September. With more than 170 members, this trade association represents the British cosmetics industry.

This ruling is very costly, says the CTPA, as more than 90% of the skincare products will have to be changed. In making this claim, the industry is admitting that plastic particles are included in more than 90% of cosmetics and toiletries.

The British government defines microbeads as an insoluble plastic particle less than 5 mm in size. The CTPA is making the case for limiting this definition to microbeads in scrub products, in parallel with the American ban of 2015. This will not hurt the industry as most of the cosmetic companies in the United Kingdom have already removed the actual scrub plastic particles.

The crux of the UK ban is that the other microplastics will be banned as well under the given definition. Cosmetic producers use microplastics that have a range of functions other than only scrubbing. These tiny plastic particles, like the microbeads, also flow down the bathroom drains and equally pollute the sea. The CTPA asserts that it has not been proven that these other types of microplastics – the ones that are still used in 90% of products like lipstick and shampoo – are hazardous for the marine environment.

When the Beat the Microbead campaign was launched in 2012, the industry responded with exactly the same argument – there is no evidence that plastic microbeads are hazardous for the marine environment. The conservative response of the CTPA brings us back to square one.

In the meantime, scientific evidence is piling up. Plastic particles that are captured by water purification plants end up in the sludge that is used as fertiliser on the land. They thus directly enter the environment and the water. Plastic particles find their way up the food chain in all sorts of ways. Recently, scientists at the Swedish Lund University published an article in Nature showing that nanoplastics enter the brains of fish through the food chain and cause aberrant behaviour. Plastic nano particles fall under the definition of microplastics and are used in some personal care and cosmetic products.

Nobody asked for polluting microplastics to be used in cosmetics and toiletries. The only ones that have done this and that have benefitted from it hugely, are the cosmetics companies themselves. These companies are now crying crocodile tears through the CTPA because of the costs associated with its removal.