Levels of pollution caused by microplastics has become a hot topic in recent years, with consumers becoming increasingly concerned about their impact on both the environment and human health. And while the cosmetics industry has acknowledged this concern, working towards phasing out microbeads in Europe, a proposed European Union ban on deliberately adding microplastics to a range of products, including cosmetics, is expected to hit the beauty industry hardest.
As reported by the Business of Fashion’s Sarah Kent, the proposed ban will affect a broad range of products, including fertilizers, detergents and paints. And while microplastics are most commonly used in the agricultural sector, removing and replacing them in beauty products is expected to incur by far the highest costs, upwards of €8 billion according to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
It is estimated by the ECHA that microplastics added to products result in close to 36,000 tons of plastic getting released into the environment every year. And as the world’s largest cosmetics market, Europe has been particularly focused on the issue - the UK has already banned the use of the solid plastic microbeads used in exfoliating products. However, the industry has argued against a broad ban on microplastics, citing the complexity and cost of replacing the materials. Indeed, according to a 2018 presentation by trade association Cosmetics Europe, such a ban would force the industry to find alternatives for 24,172 formulas not currently readily available, and cost the sector more than €12 billion a year in lost revenue.
In a statement quoted by Kent, Emma Meredith, the Director-General of UK industry trade body The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, said "CTPA is very disappointed with the European restriction proposal, because it will have a disproportionate impact on the cosmetics industry with no measurable benefit to the marine environment". And she goes on to warn that the ban could "severely impact the cosmetic products available to consumers."
Defending its proposal, which as Kent notes is still subject to further assessment, the ECHA said that it is affordable, and that it will provide a transition period that gives the industry time to adjust. It is expected to be sent to the European Commission for decision making in early 2020.