Multinational consumer goods company Unilever will phase out plastic microbeads found in its facial scrubs, amid fears they are polluting Australian warterways.
In a statement to The Sun-Herald Unilever said: "In Australia and around the world, Unilever is in the process of phasing micro-plastics out of our personal care products. We have been exploring suitable alternatives that will deliver the same performance. We will begin the next stage of the phase out in January and expect to be complete by 2015."
The microbeads, which measure less than half a millimetre across, can be eaten by worms which find them in waterways, such as Sydney Harbour. They have been found by scientists in the guts of worms and there is speculation that they may find their way into fish which are consequently eaten by humans.
“The consequences of this in terms of human health for people consuming fish are not clear," Professor Emma Johnston from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and director of the Sydney Harbour Research Program told the SMH.
The microbeads are also contained in several other facial scrubs and exfoliating products, including products made by Nivea, Elizabeth Arden, Clinique, Clearasil, Garnier, L'Oreal, Lancombe, Lush, and Olay.
L'Oreal said in a statement that it will phase out the use of polyethylene microbeads by 2017. Beiersdorf, which owns the Nivea brand, said that it will follow suit in the future.
NSW Environment Minister Rob Stokes has called for the additive to be banned by the end of 2016. Two weeks ago he convened a working party to consider the problem.
Unilever claims to prioritise environmentally responsible practices. Last week, the company announced its commitment to sourcing 100 percent traceable and certified sustainable palm oil. Previously, it committed to reducing its environmental impact and sourcing 100 percent of agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020.