Small pieces of plastic material (typically under 5mm in size) identified in the marine environment are often referred to as micro-plastics. They originate from a variety of different sources including the breakdown of larger plastic materials in the water, the shedding of synthetic fibres from textiles during domestic clothes washing, and from the use of small plastic beads, for their abrasive or other properties, in a range of consumer and industrial products.
Unilever used to use small plastic scrub beads in a limited number of dedicated personal care products, such as exfoliating face and body washes. The plastic scrub beads were used as an ingredient because of their ability to gently remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Many consumers enjoy the clean feeling that using products with the beads provides.
The amount of plastic in the marine environment thought to originate from the use of plastic scrub beads in personal care products is considered to be limited compared to other sources. However, a number of stakeholders had expressed concerns about the growing presence and potential impact of micro-plastics in the marine environment and are looking at ways in which the amount of micro-plastics can be reduced, including from the use of plastic scrub beads in personal care products.
We decided to phase-out plastic scrub beads from personal care products because we believed we could provide consumers with products that deliver a similar exfoliating performance without the need to use plastics. We completed the phase-out globally by 1 January 2015 using suitable alternatives that best match the sensory experience that the plastic scrub beads provided.