High street stores clean up on plastic microbeads

Brushing teeth

Good news for marine life: UK retailers including Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer, Boots, Tesco and Superdrug have committed to phasing out harmful plastic microbeads in their own-brand cosmetics and beauty products.

Microbeads are used as an exfoliant in products like facial wash, toothpaste and even deodorant. While they're good for scrubbing dirt from skin and teeth, their tiny size creates a real mess for our water systems: they slip through filtration systems and end up in oceans, rivers and lakes – and inside marine animals like birds, fish and shellfish.

While this is bad enough, these plastics absorb toxic, bioaccumulating chemicals which become more concentrated as they move up the food chain, with uncertain results for the wider ecosystem.

"Three years ago, hardly anyone in the UK knew about plastic microbeads in cosmetics or the impact they have on marine wildlife, but today the situation is very different," says Tanya Cox, Projects Manager for Marine Plastics at Fauna and Flora International, which has campaigned alongside organisations like the Marine Conservation Society to ban the material.

"It's really fantastic to see the UK industry responding in such a positive way to this feedback from their customers, with retailers and manufacturers alike committing publicly to phase out these unsustainable ingredients.

"However, while it's encouraging that brands are making these statements voluntarily, it is clear that legislation is still needed to level the playing field and ensure that brands really do meet their commitments – now and into the future."