Tiny plastic microbeads are causing big environmental concerns in waterways, prompting Wegmans Food Markets to remove all personal care products containing this ingredient from store shelves by mid-February 2016. Wegmans has communicated about discontinuing these products directly with its affected customers and offered substitution suggestions.
Microbeads are found in some face washes, body scrubs and toothpaste formulas. These synthetic plastic particles, smaller than pin heads, pass through drains, slipping through waste water treatment plants and into natural waterways. They do not break down in the aquatic environment. Recent studies reveal that these particles can become coated with other toxins and some marine species ingest these contaminants. The Great Lakes have been identified as having large concentrations of microbeads.
Microbeads, seen as a threat to aquatic life, are prompting proposed legislation in several states across the country. A proposal to ban microplastics in New York State stalled, but an Erie County (New York) microbead ban will take effect in February 2016. Wegmans has 11 stores in the Erie County/Buffalo area, and made the decision to remove microbead products from all 88 store locations.
“We feel this is the right thing to do for the communities we serve,” says Mary Ellen Burris, Wegmans senior vice-president of consumer affairs. “It falls under our sustainability mission to make responsible decisions that positively impact people, business and the environment.”
Wegmans Non-Foods Quality Assurance Manager Betsy Crater conducted an in-house inventory to confirm that no Wegmans brand products contain microbeads. She also identified the national brand health and beauty items with microbeads sold at Wegmans stores. Products include some popular pore cleansers, body scrubs, acne washes and toothpastes, and account for a small percentage of overall personal care sales. Makers of these items are already in the process of reformulating ingredients to phase out microbeads.
While some products may be reformulated quickly, some skin care formulas may take up to a year, according to Jessi Chichelli, a Wegmans category merchant who oversees health and beauty products. She’s worked closely with suppliers to understand the expected timelines for new formulas to appear on the shelves and recommend product substitutions to try in the meantime.
“We know customers are loyal to their skincare products, so we want to help them during this transition. We’re also seeing a lot of growth in natural skincare lines as customers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact from what they put on and in their bodies.” she says.
Informational signs on store shelves will be posted as the affected products are removed. For more information about the Wegmans microbead initiative, visit www.wegmans.com/microbeads.