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Microplastics found in 119 detergent brands

Amsterdam, July 3 2019 – In Austria, an environmental (GLOBAL 2000) and a consumer organisation (AK OÖ) together tested 300 detergents for microplastics. In 119 detergents microplastics (> 50 μm) were found. Not just the lists of ingredients were examined, but also 36 samples were tested for microplastic contents in a laboratory.


The results were compared with the list of 520 polymers published by ECHA early 2019 (Annex XV Restriction Report). It is expected that these polymers will be banned from the European Union next year. Already during the investigation some supermarket chains committed to removing the so-called “microbeads” from their home brands.  The report, Test Plastik in Waschmitteln, welcomes this step, but also calls for a ban of all added microplastics – including the liquids.

Liquid plastic

The European chemicals agency ECHA has proposed to ban from the European Union all purposely added microplastics in detergents in 2020. However, this proposal will probably not include plastics in solved or liquid form. Is it unclear to what extend these liquid polymers are biodegradable. The report therefore calls for inclusion of liquid plastics on the list of ingredients to be banned. The report shows that there are plenty of brands that can do without.

Flawed information

Unlike with cosmetics, manufacturers of detergents are not obliged to list all ingredients on product packaging. European legislation permits reference to a website for a complete list of ingredients by product. The investigators note that this form of information is both tedious and flawed. They call for legislation that ensures that in all cases all ingredients are listed on packaging, just like with personal care products.

Also read: ECHA proposes to ban intentionally added microplastics 


Ban and avoid plastic glitters

Amsterdam, 7 December 2018 – Glitters are spreading fast. Nowadays they are found in products such as nail polish, hairspray, shampoo and suntan lotion. Then there are the party-glitters that you put on your face. It all seems harmless and nice, but it is not. Glitters are predominantly made of plastic, often a combination of aluminium and PET. They are flushed away with the shower water and easily end up in the environment.

Worldwide, the sale of all glitter products has grown tremendously in recent years. Most users don’t realize that glitters are bits of plastic and that using them contributes to the plastic soup. Social media such as Instagram are believed to be partly responsible for the growth because people share photos and imitate each other. See for example this page with glitter on tongues.

While the presence of microplastics in care products  has been amply discussed in recent years, glitters seem to have been ignored. The attention was focused primarily on banning microplastics with a scrub function. When legislation prohibits only those plastic scrub particles, glitters and other microplastics are beyond that scope.

Last year English scientists called for a ban on glitter.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “Think twice about wearing glitters the coming holidays, and if you still want to, ask explicitly for glitters that are not made of plastic.”

Photo: Glitter advert drogisterij.net

Also read: The European parliament wants to ban microplastics in cosmetics

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Common periwinkel is easy prey because of toxic microplastics

Amsterdam, 29 November 2018 – The common periwinkel (Littorina littorea), a sea dwelling snail, is on the menu of the green shore crab (Carcinus maenas). Normally, the periwinkle defends itself by retreating into its shell as soon as it spots the crab. Research is now showing that this defence mechanism, called chemosensory, does not work any more because of the toxic substances from microplastics.

In the laboratory of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France, snails were placed in water with a concentration of microplastic pellets. New pellets were used and, in the same experimental set-up, pellets from the beaches of the Calais Strait. This last group of pellets had been in the sea for a long time. The new and still clean pellets had some impact on the behavioural change of the periwinkels, but the pellets from the sea had a much greater impact. Microplastics in the sea attract toxic substances from their surroundings like a magnet. The research is published in Biology Letters.

The chemical substances that attach to the plastic in sea water or that leach out of the plastic, impair the defence mechanism of the periwinkle. They are rendered unable to detect the predatory crabs on time. The results suggest a drastic effect of microplastics at sea on animals that are dependent on chemosensory. This is the first study that not only looks at the consequences of one species, but also at the interaction between two species, one of which is the prey of the other.

Also read: Endless varieties of wildlife consuming and defecating plastic


ECHA:“Microplastics accumulate in soil and waterways”

Amsterdam, 23 November 2018 – According to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) microplastics are much more likely to accumulate in soil and waterways than in oceans. Commissioned by the European Commission, ECHA collects and analyses information about the risks to the environment and health caused by intentionally added microplastics in products.

Early next year ECHA will publish a report with recommendations for measures on the basis of which the European Commission can decide to prohibit manufacturers adding microplastics to their products. A restriction on their use is then regulated under REACH. Currently polymers are exempted from the REACH procedure for admission of products on the European market.

ECHA presented its initial findings at a press conference: there is abundant evidence that microplastics have invaded food chains, that they accumulate in the environment and that they do not degrade. It is difficult to tackle this problem other than at  the source. A PowerPoint presentation explains the situation and ECHA points out the effect of the Beat the Microbead-campaign. That campaign — led by the Plastic Soup Foundation — has generated much attention for the problem. Individual Member States now consider a ban on micro plastics in cosmetics.

In their presentation ECHA also points out that microplastics in care products perform many functions other than exfoliating. On a voluntary basis, the cosmetics industry has so far only removed the microplastics that fulfil an exfoliating function from the formulas. This means the problem is far from being resolved.

Earlier this year consultation meetings took place in which the Plastic Soup Foundation also gave its opinion and brought to the attention the Beat the Microbeaddata file that offers insight into the question of which microplastics are to be found in which care products of which brands.

The Agency released a video (see below) in which the Director of ECHA, Bjorn Hansen, tells that ECHA will formulate recommendations for the European Commission on the basis of the study. Jeroen Dagevos, head of programmes at the Plastic Soup Foundation, also appears in the video.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “Six years after we started the Beat the Microbeadcampaign in 2012, we seem to be on the verge of a European prohibition of all microplastics in all cosmetics. I am very confident that ECHA will make strong recommendations that the European Commission cannot and should not ignore.”

Also read:

From plastic soup to plastic poop
Beat the microbeat campaign demands restriction of all intentionally added microplastics

Plastic microdeeltjes zijn vaak terug te vinden in cosmetica voor dagelijks gebruik.
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Ban on microbeads in UK, Italy and New Zealand

Amsterdam, 23 December 2017 – The United Kingdom, Italy and New Zealand plan to ban plastic scrub particles in personal care products. Although these countries are taking a major step, this legislation does not mean no more plastic will enter the sea through the use of personal care products.

In London the government adopted a proposal by a special parliamentary commission to ban the production of these personal care products as of 1 January 2018 and their sale as of July 2018. In the parlementary debate which preceded the decision, references were made to the Beat the Microbead campaign’s Position Paper which among other things calls for a broader ban on microplastics.

The Italian parliament adopted a proposal on 19 December to ban microbeads scrub particles in cosmetics as of 2020. In addition, Italy will be the first country to ban plastic cotton buds as of 2019.

In early December, the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, confirmed her country will ban microbeads as of May 2018, as announced by the previous government. New Zealand’s retailers are already removing these polluting products from their shelves and adapting formulas in their own brands.

In each of these pieces of legislation the ban only affects the plastic particles with a scrub function. However, these products contain other plastics which are not covered by the legislation, such as glitter. In Great Britain, glitter in scrubs is covered by the new legislation, while glitter in make-up or shampoo is not. Most glitter comprises of a combination of aluminum and PET. When used, they pollute water with microplastics just as much as the scrub particles do. According to The Independent, British scientists recently called for a ban on glitter.

waterzuivering Every day 112.5 million microbeads pass through Ljubljana’s water purification plants
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The international cosmetics industry and plastic soup

Amsterdam, 25 October 2017 – Last June the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), which represents the cosmetics industry worldwide, brought out a bizarre press release stating that they take their responsibility seriously and are doing their utmost to tackle plastic pollution in the oceans, pointing to the voluntary phasing out of plastic microbeads in scrub products. However, the organization then went on to protest against the United Nations Clean Seas-campaign, which is urging the cosmetics industry to stop adding microplastics to their products.

The press release also sets out the cosmetic industry’s reasons for their protest, for instance a number of studies by independent scientists shows that other industries play a much bigger role than the cosmetics industry in causing plastic soup. The press release claims that the industry is only responsible for “the tiniest fraction of plastic pollution in aquatic environments” and quotes a Danish study which found that 99% of the microbeads are removed by water purification plants. In its conclusion the PCPC says they sincerely hope that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) will base their Clean Seas-campaign on science and seek real solutions (rather than solely targeting the cosmetics industry).

When you read these kind of press releases, you need to ask yourself what is not being said. In order to rid cosmetic products of microplastics (and this applies to many more products than the scrubs mentioned above) some cosmetic firms would be forced to make adjustments to more than 90% of their products, which is expensive and takes time. The British trade association Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) used this argument recently in their protest against a proposed British ban on microplastics in cosmetics. In other words, the industry is not at all willing to remove all microplastics from personal care products and replace them with alternatives because it would be an extremely expensive exercise.

Another issue the PCPC omitted from its press release is that the Danish study it quotes also states sewage sludge from water purification plants is subsequently distributed on agricultural land as fertilizer. Norwegian scientist Luca Nizzetto has conducted research into this and found that microplastics from the sludge seep into the soil. He estimates this to be between 110,000 and 730,000 tons of microplastics worldwide, a proportion of which runs off into surface water. So, eventually all those plastic particles end up in the environment after all, thanks to the cosmetics industry.

The PCPC’s position and their attack on the UNEP are extremely regrettable. Instead of conceding guilt and removing microplastics from their personal care products, they are trying to downplay the problem by misrepresenting the facts. Their true objective is simply to continue selling personal care products containing microplastics for as long as possible.

waterzuivering Every day 112.5 million microbeads pass through Ljubljana’s water purification plants
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Every day 112.5 million microbeads pass through Ljubljana’s water purification plants

The cosmetics industry fears a worldwide ban on plastic microbeads in scrubs and on all other microplastics. The sector has rallied its defences and has two main lines of defence. One, water purification plants could potentially collect 99% of all plastics, so what’s the problem? Two, the legislation is not based on scientific evidence.

Earlier this year, referring to a Danish study, the mouthpiece of the world-wide cosmetics industry, the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), declared that 99% of microplastics are caught by water purification plants. In its statement, the PCPC  does not communicate that the same study also informs the reader that the sewage sludge – polluted with the caught microplastics – is then spread on agricultural land as fertiliser. This means that all those plastic particles simply enter the environment again.

Imagine that indeed, 1% of the microbeads enter the surface water through effluent. Is this a negligible amount as the PCPC suggests? In 2015, British scientists at the University of Plymouth calculated how many microplastics an average daily portion of scrub contains. In 5 millilitres of scrub, they found between 4,595 and 94,500 microplastics. So consumers contribute between 45 and 945 microbeads to the plastic soup every time they take a shower. This is excluding the other 99%.

A study was recently published in the scientific journal Chemosphere by the University of Ljubljana. This study points to a completely different percentage. The scientists calculated the number of microplastics originating in personal care products that enter Slovenia’s surface water through the water purification plants of Ljubljana. Laboratory experiments show that on average, not 99% but 52% of the microbeads ends up in the sewerage sludge. Assuming an average use of 15.2 mg per person in Ljubljana, this means that every day 112.5 million microbeads enter the Slovenian surface water. This equates to a concentration of 21 particles per cubic metre.

The cosmetic industry’s line of defence is remarkably weak. It is waging a war behind the lines in which it is rapidly losing the trust of governments and the public.

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.

Carlos Rodriguez V. - Pallid Goby
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Nanoplastics cause brain damage and behavioural abnormalities in fish

For the first time, scientists at Lund University in Sweden have proven that nanoplastics enter the brains of fish through the food chain and that this leads to abnormal behaviour. The research findings were published in the authoritative journal, Nature, on 13 September.

For the research, the scientists recreated two food chains for two months. One contained no nanoplastics while the other contained nanoplastics that were invisible to the naked eye. In the experiment, algae and water fleas were exposed to polystyrene particles of 53 and 180 nanometers. The water fleas were then fed to freshwater fish.

The fish that were exposed to the 53 nm plastics ate more slowly and travelled further to reach their food than the group that were exposed to the 180 nm. The 180 nm group exhibited hyperactive behaviour. The researchers believe that the abnormal behaviour was caused by an accumulation of nanoplastics in the fishes’ brains.

Furthermore, the research showed that all the fish in the experiment had nanoplastics in their brains. In contrast, the brains of animals in a control group did not contain plastic particles. The scientists believe that an accumulation of nanoplastics in the brains can occur in nature. While animals are constantly exposed to low concentrations of nanoplastics, they may not live long enough for the plastic particles that slowly accumulate in their bodies to cause damage. The carp used in the research can live to over 10 years.

The researchers concluded that the nanoplastics in algae are eaten by water fleas, which in turn are eaten by fish. This is how the plastic particles move through the food chain. Humans are at the top of the food chain and the question is to what extent plastic particles enter human bodies and accumulate there.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “What we already feared is confirmed in this study – nanoplastics go up through the food chain and cause abnormal behaviour in animals. Much more research is needed, and governments must take measures to stop nanoplastic pollution to protect human and animal health.”

microplastics in binnenwateren

UNESCO to publish PSF report on microplastics in inland waterways

Stockholm, 29 August 2016 – New forms of pollution are affecting the quality of freshwater worldwide. One of the causes, microplastics, still receives little attention. UNESCO considers microplastics in inland waterways to be a growing problem with huge harmful consequences. A report compiled by the Plastic Soup Foundation and commissioned by UNESCO was presented on camera in Stockholm during the World Water Week. The case study is part of the UNESCO Project on Emerging Pollutants in Water and Wastewater. Watch the program here.

Microplastics, smaller than 5 mm, are found everywhere in inland waterways. The report describes the main sources and proposes possible solutions. One major objective is to move the problem of microplastics up the political agenda worldwide. In principle, national governments are responsible for water quality.

Author of the report, Michiel Roscam Abbing, says “Much more attention is being paid to plastic pollution in the oceans than in the rivers and lakes, but the evidence does not justify this. Expectations are that our use of plastic and in particular the far-reaching fragmentation of large pieces of plastic will hugely increase the quantity of microplastics in the water. The smaller the pieces, the greater the chance they will enter the food chain and penetrate ecosystems. And once they get into the water they can no longer be removed.” The study is expected to be published within a few months.

Internationally, Sweden plays a key role when it comes to improving water quality. The World Water Week is organized every year by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). The UNESCO research program into “Emerging Pollutants” is financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Earlier this year the Swedish environment minister called for a ban on microplastics in cosmetics.