Back in July, Greenpeace East Asia exposed how the microplastics found in some of our favourite makeup and personal care products are polluting our oceans. Every day in Hong Kong, 4.8 billion microplastics find their way into the sea, polluting marine environments and even having an impact on the seafood we eat.

Many shoppers contacted us asking what kinds of products contained microplastics and how to avoid them. So Greenpeace Hong Kong organised a group of volunteers into a  “microplastics search team” to head out and identify which Hong Kong stores are selling personal care products that contain polluting plastics.

All five major retailers we checked are selling microplastic products.

It was easy to find products with microplastics at Sasa, Bonjour and Colourmix chains:

Lancôme Smoothing exfoliating cream sold at Sasa, and Cottage Exfoliating Shower Gel with Sugar Caramel both contain polyethylene (PE) microplastics.

Perlier Body Honey Miel Bath & Shower Scrub sold at Colourmix, and SCENTIO Avocado Scrub Shower Juice both contain polyethylene (PE) microplastics.

Shiseido Revital cleansing foam II dry sold at Bonjour, and L’Oréal Anti-Dullness Scrub both contain polyethylene (PE) microplastics.

At Mannings and Watsons, the search team found microplastics in their own brand products as well as in other brands sold in their stores.

Garnier Pure active oil clearing scrub sold at Mannings, and Mannings own-brand product Botaneco Garden Organic Argan & Virgin Olive Oil – Body Scrub both contain polyethylene (PE) microplastics.

Neutrogena Deep Clean Hydrating Foaming Cleanser sold at Watsons contains poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), and Watsons own-brand product Collagen by Watsons Sparkle eye shadow contains polypropylene (PP) and Nylon-12 microplastics.

How did retailers respond?

We also sent letters to the major local retailers selling cosmetics and personal care products that we investigated, asking them did they have any plans to stop selling products with microplastics. These are the responses so far:

1) Sasa
Sasa responded to Greenpeace’s inquiry. Also, on 22 August they made a public commitment online to phase out microplastics. Sasa’s promise includes its own brands and other brands it sells and it said it will phase out microplastics by talking with its suppliers thus helping to spread knowledge in the industry about the harm microplastics do to the environment as well consumers’ expectations for products free of microplastics.

This is a great step forward, but Sasa could improve on its commitment; for example they should also include leave-on products and their deadline for phasing out (31 December 2018) is not ambitious enough.

2) Watsons
Watsons responded to Greenpeace’s inquiry. Recently, they also published online their position on the issue. Watsons said they had started to phase out microplastics from their own brand products in 2014, but the biggest flaw in their promise is that it doesn’t include other brands that they sell in their stores and it doesn’t include leave-on products.

3) Mannings
Mannings responded to Greenpeace’s inquiry. They said that from March 2017 their own branded products will not contain microplastics, but their promise also has a flaw – it doesn’t include other brands they sell in their stores or leave-on products. Mannings also has a very narrow definition of microplastics including limiting it terms of the particle size, function and use in special products. Mannings has also not yet made its commitment to phase out microplastics public, making it more difficult to have public oversight.

4) Bonjour and Colourmix

Bonjour and Colourmix have not yet responded to Greenpeace’s inquiry. Also, we could not find any statement online from either of the companies on this issue. Yet Greenpeace’s “microplastics search team” found microplastics-containing products in many of their stores, meaning they likely haven’t even begun to phase out microplastics.

At this point, none of the retailers have commitments that go far enough in the fight against ocean plastic pollution.

Whilst it’s great that companies are listening and widening their commitment, they need to move faster. Plastic pollution is getting out of control and the evidence is clear – according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), by 2050 the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish; microbeads are often mistaken as food for marine life; and researchers have recently shown that microplastics are capable of leaching and releasing toxic chemicals into the seafood we eat.

At this point, except Bonjour and Colourmix do not have any commitment to phrase out microplastics. We also believe that the commitments from Mannings and Watsons have serious flaws because they don’t include products other than their own brands.

So, if you care about our oceans, please sign our petition calling on Watsons, Mannings, Bonjour and Colourmix to improve their company policy as soon as possible and stop polluting our planet’s most precious resource.

Suki Yuen is a communications officer at Greenpeace East Asia