Small pieces of plastic material identified in the marine environment are often referred to as microplastics. Protecting the marine environment from the potential impact of microplastics is an important issue.
Microplastics 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. Plastic microbeads from cosmetic products form a very small contribution (<0.1%) of the total amount of marine litter.
As a member of the detergents industry, Unilever are working together with textile and clothing manufacturers to better understand, address and minimise the effect of textile wear during the life cycle of clothes. For more information on the work being carried out, see the International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (AISE).
Unilever used to use small plastic scrub beads in a limited number of dedicated beauty & 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. We stopped using plastic scrub beads in 2014. See Plastic scrub beads for more information.