What are microplastics and why are they a problem for the environment? Here we look at the issue of microplastics in the beauty industry and reveal how to choose microplastic-free cosmetics.
Why are microplastics used in cosmetics?
Microplastics and liquid polymer plastics are tiny pieces of plastics with huge consequences. Glitter and microbeads are all both examples of cosmetic microplastics and PEGs are an example of liquid plastic polymers.
Plastic particles are widely considered an environmental hazard and Green People refuses to use microplastics or liquid polymer plastic in any of our products.
Use these quick links to shop our microplastic free products.
Why are microplastics a pollution problem?
Microplastics are found in seas and shorelines all over the world and many enter the sea having first been used in household items and cosmetics. In addition to packaging, scrubs, shower gels and toothpastes can all contain microplastics as these are often used to give products a better spreadabilty, or an exfoliating action.
Shocking statistic: Some believe that microplastics outnumber fish in the sea by as much as 7 to 1[i].
Micro means tiny and many microplastics are smaller than 1mm. The small size of microbeads and plastic glitters means that they can easily be washed down the drains and into our sewer systems and waterways. Once there, they can be accidentally consumed by marine life, which are unable to digest the plastic[ii], and already battling to survive in a habitat infiltrated by the tones of plastic waste that humans dispose of.
Shocking statistic: Just one shower with a shower gel containing microplastics can send 100,000 microbeads into the ocean[iii]
It is thought that regular exposure to high concentrations of plastic particles is having a detrimental effect on fish, altering their size, swimming ability, behaviour and their chances of reproducing [ii]. This makes them vulnerable to predators and could even put some species at risk of extinction.
Like microbeads, the glitter used to make some make-up and skin care products can shimmer down the drain and into our seas. These plastic particles do not degrade in water and will sparkle on the shoreline for years to come, where they can be consumed by marine life and cause fish to experience hormonal changes which threaten their survival chances. If we eat the fish, we too will be exposed to potential microplastic harm[iv].
Green People and the campaign against microplastics
As a long-standing campaigner against microplastics in toothpaste and cosmetics, Green People has always been microbead-free. Weeding plastic out of the rest of the beauty industry is not an easy task but huge progress has been made in the past 5 years.
COSMETIC MICROPLASTIC CAMPAIGN MILESTONES
2015 - The United States Congress passes the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 and bans the use of microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics[v].
2016 - The UK government conducts an enquiry into the environmental impact of microplastics. The committee recommends a national ban on microbeads be implemented by the end of 2017[vi].
2017 - With no ban imminent, Green People partners with Green Peace and other like-minded beauty brands to submit a 350,000 signature-strong petition to Downing Street. This demands an international ban on microbeads in cosmetic and household products.
That same year sees the BBC air a Blue Planet episode which sheds light on how plastic is endangering the ocean. When the programme airs, viewers are alarmed, and many are spurred to pledge to cut their use of plastic products.
JANUARY 2018 - The UK government announces a ban on the manufacture of rinse-off beauty and personal care products containing microplastics. The ban prevents manufacturers from using microbeads in their products with immediate effect and stipulates that retailers will no longer be able to sell products containing microbeads.
JULY 2018 - The UK ban on using microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics comes into force[iii].
2019 - The fight against microplastic continues and campaigners place mounting pressure on the government to ban the use of glitter microplastics in cosmetics and household items[vii]. Several festivals pledge to ban glitter from their events[viii] . At Christmas, retailers make the festive season more sustainable by no longer selling glittery gift wrap or greetings cards.
Conscious of a need to do whatever it can to help combat plastic waste, Green People reviews its packaging and makes the switch to carbon-positive sugar cane plastic tubes.
2020 - An article published in the Daily Mail shines a light on how microbeads and liquid plastics continue to be widely used in cosmetics. It reports that as many as 50% of sun cream brands use liquid plastics in their formulas[i].
Green People continues to make sun cream, cosmetics and toothpastes without microbeads, glitter and PEGs. We are one of the few brands recommended by the Daily Mail’s article.
3 ways to take action against microplastics
PARTICIPATE - Annual events like Plastic Free July make it easy to join the fight against microplastic. Choose leave-on beauty products which do not contain microbeads or glitter.
PETITION - You can also make a difference by adding your signature to one of the many petitions against continued cosmetic microplastic use or by spreading the word about charities campaigning against microplastics in cosmetics.
We donate 20p from the sale of our microplastic-free sun creams to the Marine Conservation Society, which launched the ‘Scrub It Out!’ campaign in 2014 and continue to raise awareness of the threat microplastics pose to marine ecosystems.
SWITCH - Looking to switch to microbead-free skin care? Picking microplastics out of your beauty regime is easy! For a microbead-free face scrub swap in an exfoliator made with Bamboo stems, Apricot kernels or Pineapple. These plant-based ingredients all have gentle, natural skin exfoliating properties and we use them to make our microplastic-free organic face scrubs.
Do you need help making the switch to microplastic-free cosmetics? Our UK customer care team is available to help and can be contacted on 01403 740350.
[v] The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 prohibits the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads.