Following direct engagement with the New South Wales Environment Minister on the microplastic issue by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Australia's President, FFI Australia saw an opportunity to drive consumer, regulatory and corporate change in plastic ingredient use by replicating the UK-focused Good Scrub Guide in Australia. In order to guarantee the long-term viability of the project, we also sought to engage and empower local marine pollution-focused NGOs to this cause.
This project comprised research, development and dissemination of the Good Scrub Guide Australia, a consumer-facing cosmetic brand engagement tool, which responds to the growing scientific evidence of the environmental harm caused by microplastic pollution. Empowering consumers to choose plastic-free products also encourages companies creating down the drain cosmetic products to discontinue their use of microplastic ingredients. By highlighting the presence of plastic-free face scrubs, FFI has prompted the discussion of this issue in an Australian context, influencing legislative discussions on microplastics and building capacity within local NGOs to respond to this emerging marine threat.
Aims & Objectives
Long-term aims included:
- improving understanding/awareness of microplastics impacts in Australia
- catalysing change in corporate policy to reduce inclusion of plastic in products, thus reducing levels reaching the marine environment through seeking a change in consumer choice regarding plastic-containing products and direct contact with industry encouraging them to phase out use from personal care products in favour of sustainably sourced, biodegradable alternatives.
Short-term objectives included:
- collecting data on use of plastic ingredients in Australian cosmetics products;
- synthesising the data into a Good Scrub Guide Australia
- promoting the guide on various platforms including via appropriate Australian NGOs.
The project ran for ten months and during that time FFI Australia successfully collected data on over 1000 personal care products and their ingredients. Those data were synthesised into a Good Scrub Guide Australia, which was disseminated via FFI's own website (www.goodscrubguide.org) and that of local partner Tangaroa Blue, as part of the Australian Marine Debris Initiative. In addition, these data were also added to the global Beat the Microbead campaign website (see Product Lists) and app.
The dissemination of the data led to direct FFI Australia engagement on microplastic ingredient policy with six Australian companies and fed in to the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Microplastics working group. In addition, as a result of this collaboration Australian NGO Tangaroa Blue is now better placed to respond to growing legislative interest in obtaining a full ban on microplastics in cosmetics.
The principal success of the project was getting Australian product and ingredient data onto the most well-known platforms around plastic ingredient auditing and resourcing a local NGO to respond to the issue. This has led to growing corporate, regulatory and public interest in the issue in an Australian context. Direct corporate engagement led to three companies (Sodashi, Sukin and Swisse) committing to either never using or phasing out plastic ingredients from their products.
Following dialogue between the NSW EPA, FFI Australia and other Australian NGOs, in April 2016, a report by the Australian Parliament's Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications concluded that ‘the evidence of the level of damage to the environment from microbeads is such that an immediate ban should occur’. Relationships and dialogue between FFI Australia, Tangaroa Blue and NSW EPA have been maintained, as both Australia and the UK look set to introduce microbead-focused legislation.
The key achievements of this project include the development and dissemination of the Good Scrub Guide Australia and advanced regulatory discussions on the use of plastics in cosmetics. We learned that there is a need for consistent messaging to retailers, manufacturers and policymakers regarding this issue, in order to avoid loopholes in commitments and legislation.
FFI has now been involved in legislative discussions in several countries. The next stage is to move beyond cosmetics and send a message to manufacturers of any product that goes down the drain – whether an industrial hand scrub or a washing powder – that plastic can no longer be used in this way.
Daniel Steadman, Marine Plastics Project Manager
Fauna & Flora International came to us for support to develop a website containing data on which personal care products contain microplastics, and with information about the impacts of microplastics on marine life. They also planned to adapt an international FFI mobile app to include information about Australian products, to provide a quick and easy reference tool for consumers.
Their goal was to raise public awareness and change consumer behaviour, using these changes as a lever to effect changes around the manufacturing use of microplastics and, ultimately, to work towards legislative change banning the use of microplastics in personal care projects.
The need for and goals of this tool was clear, and the project was well planned with strong strategies and relationships in place. They could also leverage from FFI UK’s marine microplastics work and its relationship with the European developers of ‘Beat the Microbead’ smart phone app.
They also had an existing network of community groups and researchers with an understanding of microplastics impacts that were enthusiastic about the project and with which they had already developed MOUs.
Louise Arkles, Environment & Conservation Program Manager