See below the most frequently asked questions
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Tiny plastic particles are considered pleasant-feeling skin-scrubbers and tend to have a smoother effect than natural ingredients, like nut shells or salt. Different microplastic ingredients in cosmetics have different functions, for example film formation or viscosity regulation. The cosmetics industry uses microplastic ingredients because of these functions and because microplastics fill up products in at a low cost. In some cases, up to 10% of a cosmetic product may be comprised of microplastic ingredients.
Microplastics have a damaging effect on marine life because marine animals often mistake them for food. They are passed along the marine food chain and since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain it is likely that we also eat these tiny plastic particles. In addition to this, plastic is not biodegradable and once microplastics enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove. Because of this, microplastics in cosmetics ultimately contribute to the plastic soup swirling around the world’s oceans.
There are no comprehensive lists of all synthetic polymers that can be considered as microplastic ingredients. Up until 2019, our campaign was based on research conducted and published by UNEP and the Belgian Tauw. Today, with the restriction proposal by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), we have come across more than 550 microplastic ingredients widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. This information can be quite daunting, which is why we created four product categories: Red, Orange, Green, and Zero.
Have a look at our Guide to Microplastics page for more information.
It is vital for conscious consumers to know that the cosmetics they buy are free of all microplastic ingredients. Otherwise, they might still be polluting the seas without realizing it.
We decided to challenge the burden of proof. Instead of consumers having to check labels that are difficult to understand, we ask producers to sign a statement asserting that their cosmetics are completely free of microplastic ingredients. Companies that make a public statement that their products are 100% free of microplastic ingredients are allowed to use our Zero Plastic Inside logo.
In December of 2012, Unilever was the first multinational to announce the phasing out of plastic microbeads from their products worldwide. Other multinationals soon made similar statements. However, the industry uses many loopholes, such as using so-called 'biodegradable' alternatives (see Plastic Soup Foundation's opinion on biodegradable plastics). Most company statements do not refer to the many microplastic ingredients they still use.
Yes and No. In December 2015, President Obama signed US-wide legislation after a number of states had introduced a ban. Since then, France, the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland), Taiwan, South Korea, Sweden, and New Zealand have also banned microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics. Following these countries, India recently announced a microbead ban which will enter force in 2020. Italy, too, has drafted legislation to ban microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics as of 1 January 2020. In addition, Italy is the first country to ban plastic cotton buds starting in 2019. The European Commission will hopefully introduce a ban as well. As optimistic as this progress sounds, most of these statewide initiatives refer only to rinse-off cosmetics and not to all microplastic ingredients used in cosmetics.
Many countries, like Australia, still prefer to rely on voluntary industrial commitments rather than enacting binding legislation. For more information on which countries are banning microplastics, check out our Impact timeline.
Unfortunately, there is no 'correct' way to dispose of products containing microplastic ingredients. We always recommend two options: the first is to send the product back to the manufacturer and describe why you decided not to use it and that you will stop buying this product as long as it includes microplastics; the second option would be to dispose of your products in the regular house-trash. It will be taken to a landfill or will be incinerated. These are not very environmentally friendly options but at least the microplastics will not end up in the ocean.
Check out our ZERO products lists to see which products are 100% free of microplastics!