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Cosmetics Europe survey shows an 82% reduction in use of plastic microbeads

  • January 27, 2017

Caring for the environment we all share is of utmost importance to the European cosmetics and personal care industry. In October 2015, in view of public concerns expressed over plastic litter in the marine environment and given the availability of alternative materials, Cosmetics Europe recommended to its membership to discontinue, in wash-offi cosmetic and personal care products placed on the market as of 2020: the use of synthetic, solid plastic particles used for exfoliating and cleansing (i.e. microbeadsii) that are non-biodegradable in the marine environment. The Cosmetics Europe recommendation built on voluntary initiatives already taken by individual companies. A Cosmetics Europe survey, conducted in 2016, and covering use during 2015, assessed the effectiveness of these industry voluntary actions.

Today, Cosmetics Europe is delighted to share the results of its membership survey which found a rapid and substantial 82% reduction in the use of plastic microbeads for exfoliating and cleansing purposes in wash-off cosmetic and personal care products between 2012iii and 2015.

John Chave, Director General of Cosmetics Europe commented - ”This rapid and substantial reduction demonstrates the strength and effectiveness of the voluntary action taken by the European cosmetics and personal care industry. Given the significant progress made, Cosmetics Europe anticipates that we are on track to meet our objective of removing all plastic microbeads used for exfoliating and cleansing purposes in wash-off cosmetics and personal care products, ahead of our 2020 deadline.”

Loïc Armand, President of Cosmetics Europe said - “The Cosmetics Europe survey results show the significant progress our industry has made to date. As an environmentally minded industry that is taking positive action on this matter, Cosmetics Europe will continue to annually monitor and report the findings on the effectiveness of the European industry’s voluntary action, until we have achieved our final objective.“

Mr. Armand added - “We will also continue our work, in partnership with other stakeholders to ensure a holistic, risk and science based approach to plastic marine litter that will be of true benefit to the environment”.

It should be noted that many sources of plastic litter in the marine environment have been identified and quantified. In fact, scientific evidence suggests that the vast majority of microplasticsiv in the seas come from the breakdown of bigger plastic materials.v In addition, it should be noted that scientific studiesvi show that up to 99% of microplastics are captured by waste water treatment plants.

The European cosmetics and personal care industry is taking action on this matter irrespective of the fact that the cosmetics and personal care sector is an extremely minor potential contributor to the total amount of aquatic plastic litter: one credible report estimated this to have been between 0.1%–1.5% in 2012.iii Given the above survey results any such potential minor contribution will also now have been reduced significantly.

Media questions: Media contacts should address their questions to cosmeticseurope@cosmeticseurope.eu 

About the Cosmetics Europe recommendation
In view of the public concerns expressed over plastic debris in the marine environment, and given the availability of alternative materials, many individual member companies of Cosmetics Europe publicly stated that they will discontinue those uses in cosmetics that potentially may end up in the aquatic environment and for which alternatives exist. Building on this, in order to engage the whole of the Cosmetics Europe membership and facilitate sector wide best practice, on 21st October 2015, Cosmetics Europe recommended to its membership to discontinue, in wash-off cosmetic products placed on the market as of 2020: The use of synthetic, solid plastic particles used for exfoliating and cleansing (i.e. microbeads) that are non-biodegradable in the marine environment. 

About the Cosmetics Europe Survey
Cosmetics Europe requested all its members to complete a survey regarding their individual use of solid plastic particles in cosmetic products. The survey was focused on products marketed in the European Union, Norway and Switzerland. Members were requested to provide the INCI Name of the materials used, the particle size and particle shape for the year of 2015. For the purposes of the survey, participants were asked to provide information on petroleum-based solid particles in cosmetic products of any size < 5mm. The Cosmetics Europe survey was conducted in 2016 and covers the annual figures of the year 2015. The survey includes commercially sensitive information and therefore only the aggregated data included above can be made publicly available.

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i A wash-off product is a cosmetics product intended to be removed with water a short period of time after use e.g. in a bath or shower.
ii A microbead is an intentionally added, 5 mm or less, water insoluble, solid plastic particle used to exfoliate or cleanse in wash-off personal care products.
iii Gouin et al, 2015, “Use of Micro-Plastic Beads in Cosmetic Products in Europe and Their Estimated Emission to the North Sea Environment” found that in 2012 4360 tons were used.
iv A micro-plastic is: Any 5 mm or less, water insoluble, solid plastic particle that could be found as marine litter.
v Sources of microplastics relevant to marine protection in Germany; Essel et al., 2015 Sources of microplastic pollution to the marine environment; Sundt et al., 2015Microplastics: Occurrence, effects and sources of releases to the environment in Denmark; Lassen et al., 2015: Duis and Coors, Environ Sci Eur (2016) 28:2 “Microplastics in the aquatic and terrestrial environment: sources (with a specific focus on personal care products), fate and effects”: A report by the United Nations Environment Programme on plastic marine litter concludes, "Although the use of microplastics in [personal care products] may appear to represent a significant source, it is relatively small compared with other sources of… microplastics into the environment..."
vi Screening of microplastic particles in and downstream a waste water treatment plant: Magnussen and Norden 2014  

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