In a move applauded by eco-advocates, beauty giant Unilever has announced that it will discontinue the use of micro-plastic exfoliating beads in its products.
The tiny scrub bits are popular in liquid hand soap and body wash formulas, but have become a major cause of marine debris. Studies show the plastic material doesn’t entirely break down after it goes through the drain, and the pieces can also absorb chemicals during the disposal process that may then contaminate marine wildlife species and habitats.
“The issue of plastic particles in the ocean is an important issue, and we have reviewed the use of micro-beads in our portfolio—both current products and those in the pipeline. We have decided to phase out the use of plastic micro beads as scrub material in all of our personal care products,” said Unilever in a statement.
A spokesperson for the brand said the polyethylene beads will be replaced by an alternative yet-to-be-determined material, which Unilever is currently researching. All products on the global market will be completely free of the plastic bits by 2015.
The move is one of many sustainable living initiatives currently underway at Unilever, which owns brands as diverse as personal care labels such as Dove, St. Ives and Alberto VO5, to food makers Ben & Jerry’s, Lipton and Bertolli, and cleaning labels Sunlight and Surf.
By 2020, Unilever aims to halve the greenhouse gas impact of its products as well as water use by implementing easy-rinse technology and detergent formulas that require less water. Another 50 percent cut will be in waste disposal by reducing, reusing and recycling packaging in both factories and stores. Raw materials like cage-free eggs, palm oil and sugar look to be 100 percent sustainably sourced by 2020, and the company intends to incorporate half a million small-scale farmers into its supply network within the same time frame, too.
“The great challenge of the 21st century is to provide good standards of living for seven billion people without depleting the earth’s resources or running up massive levels of public debt. To achieve this, government and business alike will need to find new models of growth which are in both environmental and economic balance,” said Unilever CEO Paul Polman in a statement.
Unilever joins other consumer product giants in major reformulations amid eco-conscious criticism. Late last year, Johnson & Johnson announced plans to remove preservative parabens from all of its baby products, as well as controversial chemicals like formaldehyde in other product formulations.
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