Microbeads omitted from ingredient label in half of beauty products in major Hong Kong cosmetic retailers

Greenpeace says such packaging did not state clearly if they contained microplastics, a huge source of marine pollution

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 October, 2016, 9:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 9:29am

About half the products sampled from five major Hong Kong cosmetic retailers do not have proper labels indicating they contain microplastics, a huge source of marine pollution, a study has found.

Such sales practices, according to Greenpeace East Asia, “deprived consumers of their right to know” about their use and disposal of products that could harm the environment.

Microplastics are small plastic particles, usually less than 5mm in size, which tend to be broken off from larger plastic pieces. They can also be in the form of “microbeads”, manufactured for use in body scrubs and cleansers.

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They are small enough to be washed down drains and flushed into the ocean, and can end up in the digestive tracts of marine creatures consumed by humans.

Studies have shown that Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest mean abundances of ­micro­plastic waste on its shores.

Of the 1,413 cosmetic products surveyed from retailers Bonjour, Colourmix, Mannings, Sasa and Watsons, 698 items – about half of the total – did not have clear labelling. Ingredient lists, for example, were in either Japanese or Korean, or missing altogether.

And further analysis found 37.5 per cent of products with adequate labelling actually contained microplastics. Leave-on items – which do not require rinsing off – were of the biggest concern. The study found nearly 80 per cent of eye and face make-up products contained microplastics but only 40 per cent used proper labelling.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Kate Lin Pui-yi said most people did not know microplastics were commonly found in cosmetics, and not just in scrubs.

“A conscientious retailer must not only ensure the products it sells do not contain microplastics but also provide more ... information to give consumers peace of mind,” she said, urging the government toban microplastic use in beauty products.

Bonjour, Mannings and Watsons said they would stop carrying private brand products with microplastics starting either next year or the year after. Sasa said all private and non-private brands it carried would be microplastics-free after 2018. Colourmix did not respond to inquiries.

The Customs and Excise Department said the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance imposed a "statutory duty" on companies to ensure that the consumer goods supplied in Hong Kong complied with the general safety requirements. But the the Trade Descriptions Ordinance does not make it mandatory for cosmetic and beauty products to specify ingredients or their packaging.

The Consumer Goods Safety Regulation does however require warning notices or labels affixed to products or their packaging to be in English or Chinese, a spokeswoman said.

The Environmental Protection Department has said that potential environmental impacts in Hong Kong caused by microbeads are currently quite low but they would assess the need for further study and regulation when scientific research on the topic matured.