Plastic microbeads to be banned by 2017, UK government pledges

BBC News : The UK government has announced plans to ban microbeads used in cosmetics and cleaning products by 2017.

"UK Government Pledges: Ban on Plastic Microbeads by 2017"
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The small pieces of plastic commonly found in toothpaste, exfoliating body scrubs and other household products and are thought to damage the environment.

Environmentalists fear they are building up in oceans and potentially entering the food chain.

A consultation on how a ban would work will start later this year, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom has announced.

A number of cosmetic companies have made voluntary commitments to phase out the use of microbeads by 2020.

How do you know if a product contains microbeads?

Products that contain the tiny bits of plastic won’t necessarily say “microbeads” in the list of ingredients.

Instead, look for the words polyethylene, polypropylene andpolymethylmethacrylate – the chemical names for plastics. Nylon may also be listed as well as the abbreviations PET, PTFE and PMMA.

There are several websites listing products that do and do not include plastic such asBeat the Microbead. It also has a free app where you can check products by scanning the barcode with your smartphone camera.

Many cosmetics brands include information on their websites. Johnson & Johnson which produces face scrubs under the brands Neutrogena and Clean & Clear has committed to phasing out microbeads by the end of 2017.

Proctor and Gamble which owns Crest toothpaste, Gillette and Olay, has also promised to stop using them by next year.

Last month, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee emphasized the government’s requirement to intervene and safeguard the environment at the earliest feasible opportunity, following the revelation that a single shower can introduce 100,000 plastic particles into the ocean.

Mrs Leadsom said:

She emphasized that incorporating plastic into products such as facial cleansers and body scrubs is entirely unnecessary when harmless alternatives are available.

She regarded this as the subsequent measure in addressing the issue of microplastics in our oceans, following the implementation of the 5p plastic bag charge, introduced in England in October.

Professor Richard Thompson, a marine biologist from Plymouth University, welcomed the decision.

He said: “Over 680 tonnes of mircrobeads are used in the UK alone every year. That’s substantially more than all of the litter we pick up on our beaches in voluntary beach cleans each year, so it’s not a trivial quantity.

“The sooner we can make progress with avoidable, unnecessary emissions, because it’s not clear to me at all why we need to cleanse ourselves by rubbing our skin with millions of small, plastic particles. What’s the societal benefit there?”

As an example, it said a plate of six oysters can contain up to 50 particles of plastic.

Researchers have discovered that over 280 marine species actively consume microplastics. However, the committee emphasized the necessity for extensive research on plastic pollution due to significant uncertainties surrounding ecological risks.

The committee noted a scarcity of evidence concerning the potential human health effects of microplastic pollution but emphasized the need for additional research to address this knowledge gap.

‘Credit to May’ (Plastic microbeads)

Commenting ahead of the government’s move, Greenpeace UK senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said: “It’s a credit to Theresa May’s government that they’ve listened to concerns from the public, scientists and MPs, and taken a first step towards banning microbeads.


“If Theresa May wants to show real leadership on this issue, that’s the kind of ban she should back.”

The US recently became the first country to announce it would ban microbead use in cosmetics, with pressure growing globally to take action.

The European Commission is also currently developing proposals to ban them in cosmetics across the EU, following calls from a number of member states.

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