How Invisible Plastics are being fought this Earth Day
2018’s Earth Day on April 22nd focuses on the fight to end plastic pollution, as part of the ongoing global effort to be more sustainable as a world. In this article, Euromonitor International examines companies’ responses to this movement through the various actions they are taking.
Plastic is also an unseen offender in waste terms
Important plastic pollutants that are not immediately visible to the eye, but impact the environment, are. Microbeads as discussed in the UN resolution, occurring as an exfoliant ingredient in beauty products such as facial and body scrubs and toothpaste; and microfibres from synthetic clothes such as polyester, acrylic and nylon, which are tiny threads shed from fabrics during laundry. Many companies are currently developing alternatives to these microplastics.
Source: Euromonitor International
Microbeads ban and potential domino effect on other microplastics
The response from the cosmetics industry to the microbeads ban in cosmetics, since 2012, has had a visible impact on the global market, creating opportunities for producers of silica and natural ingredients. However, bio-degradable plastic microbeads are not on the winning side due to concerns over the timescale required to degrade in the marine environment.
Apart from natural ingredients, the use of sustainable bio-based ingredients with exfoliating properties such as coffee waste are also positioned as an attractive alternative with the circular economy becoming a high priority in EU policy making. Although wash-off personal care products were the initial target of addressing marine microplastics, further plastic waste related regulations to tackle other sources of microplastics such as glitter are expected.
How glitter in beauty is becoming Plastic free
With the growing popularity of glitter in beauty and personal care products, the company has developed Bio-glitter® to fill the need for non-plastic alternatives. This is a clear example of a company working ahead of legislation to take advantage of the opportunities that the fast-evolving regulatory landscape brings to the market. The material is made from responsibly managed tree plantations and it contains much lower levels of heavy metals than traditional glitter.
Are microfibres the new microbeads?
Plastic microfibres are starting to be seen as an important source of global microplastic pollution in the oceans, potentially bigger than microbeads in beauty products. Unlike what has happened in the beauty and personal care industry, however, a potential ban on plastic microfibres in apparel does not appear to be a realistic option, as the clothing industry is considerably larger than the cosmetics industry, with synthetic clothes playing a very important role. Furthermore, the replacement of synthetic fibres in textiles is not as straightforward as in the case of plastic microbeads in cosmetics.
In the US, Santa Monica has recently introduced the first-of-its kind bill that requires a label on all clothing made primarily of polyester warning of plastic microfibre shedding and recommending hand washing the item to reduce the environmental impact. In Europe, the conclusions of the Mermaids Life+ project have encouraged the launch of a new initiative to find feasible solutions and develop test methods to prevent plastic microfibre pollution. Aware of this, the textile and laundry industries are working on potential upstream and downstream solutions, new materials and technologies, to reduce or avoid shedding of plastic microfibers.
Other disposable plastics to be mindful of
As consumers’ awareness of their impact on the environment and desire to protect it, through more mindful consumption is continuing to grow, there are other important uses of plastic among consumer products to consider as part of brands’ circular, sustainable design innovations going forward.
Source: Euromonitor International