Statement by Beth Lange, PhD, Chief Scientist Personal Care Products Council On Latest Report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) “Marine Debris and Microplastics”

Washington, D.C. – “The Cosmetics and Personal Care Products industry firmly believes that protecting our oceans and waterways, including reducing the growing amount of plastic litter, is an important global issue.  The recent UNEP report aptly states, ‘Plastic litter in the ocean can be considered a common concern of humankind.’

“Our industry has a longstanding commitment to protecting the environment we all share.  That commitment is reflected in the environmental initiatives and partnerships with NGOs among many of our member companies.  In addition, our industry’s swift action to phase out plastic microbeads from its products, despite little scientific data to suggest that microbeads derived from cosmetics are a major contributor to environmental pollution, also reflects our strong commitment.  

“We applaud the most recent UNEP report for finally setting the record straight about our industry.  The report recognizes that the use of microplastics in personal care products is ‘not a significant source of environmental pollution, especially compared with other sources of primary and secondary microplastics.’  These conclusions confirm the findings of other studies that show microbeads make up only 0.1 – 1.5 % of all sources of microplastics pollution.

“Equally important, the UNEP report accurately notes that current science does not support a conclusion that microplastics pose a threat to human health.  Moreover, potential environmental impacts of microplastics should be based on scientifically valid, risk based assessments and not just based on exposure or hazard data in isolation.  This holistic approach would lead to a clearer understanding of how microplastic materials interact with the environment.

“We share the report’s solutions-oriented approach to marine plastic litter and its assertion that solutions should be based on a scientifically valid, risk-based assessment and an active management strategy that engages key stakeholders, both public and private.  The Personal Care Products Council (as well as several of our member companies) is actively engaging with NGOs, scientists and academics to support a collaborative and pragmatic approach to this important issue.

“Since microplastics originate from numerous sources, we agree with UNEP for calling attention to the most critical factor in reducing marine plastic pollution: proper waste management, especially in certain geographic regions.  As the report states, ‘Improving waste collection and management presents the most urgent solution to reducing plastic inputs, especially in developing economies. This will also have other societal benefits in terms of human health, environmental degradation and economic development.’

“We are hopeful the UNEP findings will help counter the many unsupported claims, myths and inaccurate news coverage that have marred this critical discussion and stalled appropriate corrective actions, as well as shift the conversation to finding real solutions to marine plastic debris.”