PARIS — The United Nations Environment Programme recommends a precautionary approach toward microplastics with a subsequent phase-out and ban of their use in personal care products and cosmetics (PCCPs).
The study, released to coincide with World Oceans Day on Monday, is called “Plastic in Cosmetics: Are We Polluting the Environment Through Our Personal Care? Plastic Ingredients That Contribute to Marine Microplastic Litter.”
Plastic microparticles (or microplastics) have been increasingly used in personal-care and cosmetics products over the past 50 years. In 2012, 4,360 tons of microplastic beads were put in such formulations in European Union countries, Norway and Switzerland, according to Cosmetics Europe, a personal-care association.
Microplasts cannot be collected for recycling when washed down a drain, nor do they decompose with water treatments. So they end up in the oceans, negatively impacting sea life and posing a potential secondary health impact on humans who eat seafood.
The UN report shows that in 2013, 299 million tons of plastic were produced globally and some wound up in the oceans, which cost about $13 billion that year in environmental damage to marine ecosystems.
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Last June, the first UN Environment Assembly met and adopted a resolution on marine plastic debris and microplastics, calling for stronger action — specifically in addressing such materials at their source — and a global study on the subject.
The recent report addresses producers, consumers, researchers and policymakers.
“It calls for a voluntary phaseout of microplasts by the industry precipitated by consumers’ decisions not to buy products containing microbeads,” stated the UN Environment Programme. “Given the associated potential risks of microplasts, the report recommends a precautionary approach toward microplastic management, with the eventual phaseout and ban in PCCPs.”
Such legislation is already underway in Illinois, which will ban all microplastics in PCCPs by 2019. California and New York are after similar laws, while the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Sweden have jointly called to ban microplastics from personal care products.
Beauty companies are also beginning to focus on the subject. Biotherm, for instance, has removed microplasts from its scrubs.