Do mobile applications become the most effective weapon of consumer-activists? When one’s considers that most consumers are shopping with their mobile phone and that an increasing proportion of them uses it when it feels the need to be guided, these little devices could soon exert an increasing pressure on brands.

“Beat the Microbead”

The ‘Beat the Microbead’ App offers consumers information about the presence of plastic microbeads in personal care products. The aim is to make the eco-friendly minded consumer more aware of their purchasing behaviour.

As usual, the principle is quite simple. The App can scan the barcode of a personal care product and tell the consumer whether or not the product contains plastic microbeads.

Products are divided into the categories Red, Orange and Green. Red: the product contains microbeads; Orange: the product contains microbeads but the manufacturer has pledged to stop using them in the near future; Green, the product does not contain microbeads.

The international and multiplatform version of the application - which was initially only available in Dutch for iOS - was developed with the financial support of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and UK based NGO Fauna & Flora International (FFI). The application is available for free and in five languages (English, Spanish, German, French, Dutch).

However, the application can only be available to use where the lists of personal care products containing plastic microbeads were supplied and updated. NGOs from The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Hong Kong and Canada are already doing this work. Recently, NGOs from Brazil, Sweden and New Zealand have joined up as well.

The microbeads issue

The presence of micro plastic beads in consumer products, including cosmetics, is accused of impacting the marine environment but also indirectly the human health as they enter the food chain.

Plastic only breaks down partially and leaves little pieces of plastic called microbeads. The worst part, water treatment plants are unable to filter these microbeads completely and thus directly influence the plastic soup that threatens the oceans,” said Jeroen Dagevos of the North Sea Foundation.

Obviously, the ultimate goal of NGOs is to push companies to stop using plastic microsbeads and to replace them by other materials more environmentally friendly, so as Unilever and Lush have done by announcing to stop using these products at the beginning of the year, or, more recently, The Body Shop.