UK government plans to ban plastic microbeads

The UK government has announced that it plans to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. The tiny plastic beads are a major source of marine pollution and a hazard to sea life.

The UK’s environment secretary Andrea Leadsom announced on Saturday that the government plans to ban both the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing microbeads in the UK.

These tiny pieces of plastic are commonly used in a range of products including face scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels. But the microbeads cause irreversible damage to the environment as the build up in marine ecosystems and are ingested by sea life, including fish and crustaceans.

The UK government calls the use of microbeads in personal care products “wholly unnecessary when harmless alternatives can be used”. These include nut shells, salt and sugar, which have the same exfoliating properties but do not pose a threat to the environment.

25 UK cosmetics and toiletries companies, including Unilever, have already taken action to voluntarily phase out microbeads from their products. And the British supermarket chain Waitrose said that it will stop stocking such products by the end of this month.

The conservation organisation Fauna & Flora International welcomed the government’s plans to put an end to what it calls an “unnecessary pollutant”.

“We applaud the Government for taking action to turn off the tap on microplastics. This is one source of marine pollution that is simple to control through a ban, and we are pleased to see the UK showing leadership on this issue,” said Daniel Steadman, manager of marine plastics projects at Fauna & Flora International.

The UK government said that it will launch a consultation later this year with industry, environmental groups and other relevant parties to establish how and when a ban could be introduced, with the aim to change legislation by next year.

The consultation will also gather evidence on the environmental impacts of microbeads found elsewhere, such as in household and industrial cleaning products, to see if more can be done in the future to tackle other plastics – such as microfibers found in fabrics – that enter the marine environment.

Environmentalists welcomed the broader scope of the consultation. “Cosmetic and beauty products are just one part of a much bigger problem,” said Steadman.


Image credit: MPCA Photos, flickr/Creative Commons

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