The consumer goods multinational has stated that it intends to fully cease the use of the small plastic beads in its Australian personal care offering next year, in response to rising concerns across the world of their environmental impact.
“We will begin the next stage of the phase out in January and expect to be complete by 2015," the company, whose brands include Dove, Vaseline and Simple, confirmed.
The beads can take over 100 years to biodegrade, and although the full extent of their damaging potential on the environment is not yet known, many states across the US have already introduced bans, with Australia and the EU now looking to follow suit.
Ahead of the game
Unilever’s pledge to end its use of the widespread component next year will put it ahead of the general target of 2017, addressing concerns that immediate action is needed.
Accord, Australia’s hygiene, cosmetic and speciality products industry body, has said although efforts are already being made to tackle the microbead threat in the country’s waterworks, “there is a concern that sewer overflows still appear to be contaminating the Sydney Harbour.”
The group is part of a New South Wales working group, led by NSW Environment Minster Rob Stokes, which is seeking to completely get rid of the beads’ use in personal care products by the end of 2016.
Established by the state’s environment minister Rob Stokes, the working body states its aims are to both end the continued use of microbeads in cosmetics products, and work towards tackling the environmental impact the beads are having in Australia’s marine habitats.
In a statement to The Sun-Herald, the multinational said: "In Australia and around the world, Unilever is in the process of phasing micro-plastics out of our personal care products. We have been exploring suitable alternatives that will deliver the same performance.”
Seeking out alternatives to the polyethylene is now a major focus for personal care manufacturers, with products now featuring exfoliating additives such as microcrystalline wax beads.