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Unilever to phase out microplastics in formulations by 2015

By Simon Pitman , 02-Jan-2013
Last updated on 09-Jan-2013 at 10:46 GMT

Anglo-Dutch consumer giant Unilever says it is planning to phase out microplastics from a number of its personal care ranges by the year 2015, in response to increasing awareness over environmental concerns.

This comes after growing evidence from marine scientists and environmental groups that microplastic particles are accumulating in the ocean, causing considerable environmental perils to a range of marine life and marine eco systems.

Evidence on micro beads points to ocean pollution

The company said that it had reviewed the growing evidence on micro beads from its own product portfolio and that it has consequently decided to take action on micro beads for all current ranges and a number of products in the pipeline.

Microplastics have been used in a range of soaps, scrubs and shower gels as a means of giving exfoliating and texture qualities to formulations.

"We have decided to phase out the use of plastic micro beads as a ‘scrub’ material in all of our personal care products.  We expect to complete this phase out globally by 2015," the company said in an official statement.

Poor biodegredation of microplastics

Scientific evidence suggests that microplastics are slow to biodegrade, leading to long lasting accumulation and pollution in both waterways and oceans once waste water is discarded.

The research also shows that the discarded microplastics can be ingested by a very wide range marine organims, with documented evidence pointing to deposit-feeding lugworms and filter-feeding mussels as demonstrating ingestion of the substance.

Scientists have also pointed out that, unlike other plastic-based pollutions, because microplastic particles are only around 5mm in diameter, assessing their exact impact on the environment is particularly difficult.

Unilever builds on its sustainable reputation

In 2010, Unilever unveiled a sustainabilty strategy that aims to halve the company's environmental impact, while simultaneously doubling the size of the business by the year 2020.

The Sustainable Living Plan sets out over 50 social, economic and environmental targets and will see Unilever, whose global brands include Dove, Lynx and Vaseline, halve the greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste used not just by the company in its direct operations, but also by its suppliers and consumers.

The main aims of the plan are to implement a sustainable sourcing strategy, reduce environmental impact, and ensure the health and hygiene of people around the world.

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