UK Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, announced plans 3 September to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing tiny pieces of plastic, commonly known as ‘microbeads’.
Each year billions of tiny beads end up in our seas from a range of products such as face scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels. These beads build up in the marine environment and can be swallowed by sea life, including fish and crustaceans.
The government says the ban follows the successful introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge – which has led to six billion fewer bags issued this year – and is the next step in its action to tackle plastic in the oceans. A consultation will be held later this year.
At the same time, evidence will be gathered on the extent of the environmental impacts of microbeads found elsewhere, such as in household and industrial cleaning products, before considering what more can be done in future to tackle other plastics, for example microfibers, which enter the marine environment.
Andrea Leadsom said “Most people would be dismayed to know the face scrub or toothpaste they use was causing irreversible damage to the environment, with billions of indigestible plastic pieces poisoning sea creatures.
“Adding plastic to products like face washes and body scrubs is wholly unnecessary when harmless alternatives can be used. This is the next step in tackling microplastics in our seas following the success of the 5p plastic bag charge, and I look forward to working with industry and environmental groups.”
Twenty-five UK cosmetics and toiletries companies, including Unilever, have already taken steps to voluntarily phase out microbeads from their products. Waitrose has announced they will stop stocking such products by the end of September.
The government says its action is intended to “create a level playing field for industry, tackle inconsistency and stop new products containing tiny pieces of plastic from being sold in the UK”. Manufacturers are exploring natural alternatives, including nut shells, salt and sugar, which have the same exfoliating properties but do not pose a threat to the environment.
The government says it will “consult industry, environmental groups and other relevant parties” to establish how and when a ban could be introduced, aiming to change legislation next year.
Image credit: MPCA Photos on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.