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Today is World Oceans Day, which highlights the importance of protecting our Oceans and is the official UN-designated international day of ocean celebration. 

At M & S we are committed to reducing waste and improving the environment. One area we’ve taken action on is microbeads in beauty products. 

Microbeads are small particles of plastic (mainly polyethylene) that are used in personal care products most commonly as an exfoliator. They have become popular because they are colourless, inert, safe and affordable and do a very good job of exfoliating the skin.
The issue is that many of these products are washed-off so these scrub particles end up going down the drain. Because of their small particle size, wastewater treatment plants are not able to filter out microbeads. This means that they can pass into the water course and contribute to marine pollution. Sea creatures absorb or eat microbeads and pass them along the marine food chain. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove.

What is M&S doing?

A number of M&S products historically contained microbeads both as exfoliators and as glitter particles in some of our best-selling decanters. We have had a policy in place since 2012 to replace microplastics with natural and biodegradable alternatives wherever possible so by the time the Marine Conservation Society highlighted the issue to us in 2014, we had already made significant progress towards reducing their usage. At this stage only a handful of microbead containing products remained. Following discussions with the Marine Conservation Society we committed to an immediate ban on new M&S wash-off products containing microbeads and to phase out any used in current lines by the end of 2015. The search for alternatives was not easy. These are products people love and we had to ensure that product aesthetics, quality, cost and efficacy were not affected. Polyethylene has many unique properties that are not always easy to replicate in alternatives. Many natural scrubs such as ground nut shell or stone powders are strongly coloured, and mineral based scrubs like sand or pumice are often too harsh to use in facial products. Replacing polyethylene glitters was particularly challenging where many alternatives do not have the same colour, lustre, particle size or ease of suspension as polyethylene. 

How did we do?

We are pleased to report that polyethylene microbeads were removed from all M&S rinse off products in early 2015, well in advance of our commitment date. As a scrub we now use a biodegradable polymer called polylactic acid (PLA) which has the added benefit of being derived from renewable resources, unlike the oil based polyethylene. In glitters we now use a combination of natural minerals and biodegradable polymers depending on the application and visual effect needed.

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