Major retailers in the country are stepping up to the call from the Australian government to begin voluntarily removing or reformulating any products that contain the small beads of plastic, which have been found to cause damage to marine life and act as pollutants in water systems.
ABC news is one of various media outlets that recently reported that Coles and Woolworths, the country’s two largest supermarket retailers, have both committed to completely suspend sale of any product which contains microbeads by the end of 2017.
Slow to action
Australia’s response to the environmental concerns posed by microbeads has lagged somewhat behind other comparable developed markets across Europe and North America. Some, such as Canada and Sweden, have already gone as far as banning the plastic material completely.
Indeed, Australia’s Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, recently told the country’s flagship current affairs programme 7.30 that he believes the government has been slow to act: "I have to confess, it's one of those issues which emerged later than it should have.”
Hunt confirmed that although it remains voluntary, the government is keen to have the beauty industry’s full co-operation with a complete eventual phase out.
"We want to work with industry to do this. Already Coles and Woolworths have responded and committed to banning microbeads from their shelves by the end of 2017, but we want to see a full national phase out."
Sometimes functional as an aid for dead skin removal and deep cleansing, microbeads actually perform a largely decorative function in personal care products.
The momentum against the plastic particles has been building steadily since about 2012, when Unilever became the first major multinational to commit to eliminating microbead use. Since then, Beiersdorf, Colgate-Palmolive and L’Oréal have followed suit, with others, like Procter & Gamble, set to follow.
In what is maybe the most decisive move against microbeads so far, in December, US president Barack Obama signed a bill against the plastic particles, known as the Microbead-Free Waters Act.