Collection of cosmetics products

UK ban on microbeads in production comes into force

Image credit: Dreamstime

A ban on the use of microbeads in the production of rinse-off products comes into force in the UK today, as the government takes steps to mitigate plastic pollution of the oceans.

Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic less than a millimetre in size. They are used frequently in cosmetic products such as exfoliators, as well as in toothpaste, shower gels and other products. A single shower can wash 100,000 microbeads down the drain.

Thousands of tonnes of microbeads seep into rivers and oceans, polluting the water and harming marine creatures, which often mistake the beads for food and ingest them. While microbeads are just one small part of the vast issue of plastic pollution of the oceans, they are widely considered an easily preventable aspect of the problem.

“Microbeads in cosmetics are an avoidable part of the problem, which is why we called for a ban,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, in a statement.

“This is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. Since we called for a ban, my committee has also recommended a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, a latte levy for plastic-lined coffee cups and reforms to make producers responsible for their packaging. We look forward to hearing the government’s response.”

The government first pledged to ban microbeads in September 2016. This followed the introduction of the 2015 Microbead-Free Waters Act in the US, which phased out the use of microbeads in cosmetics by July 2017.

Today, Dr Thérèse Coffey, an environment minister, announced that the ban would be coming into force. The ban – which has been praised for its toughness – will mean that microbeads can no longer be used in the manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products.

“The world’s seas and oceans are some of our most valuable natural assets and I am determined we act now to tackle the plastic that devastates our precious marine life,” said Coffey.

“Microbeads are entirely unnecessary when there are so many natural alternatives available, and I am delighted that from today cosmetics manufacturers will no longer be able to add this harmful plastic to their rinse-off products.”

It will be followed by a ban on sales of these products later in the year, a government statement confirmed.

Due to a growing backlash against the use of microbeads in cosmetics products, many companies had already begun phasing out microbeads in their products, replacing them with more natural ingredients with similar exfoliating properties, such as sugar crystals, crushed kernels or ground pumice.

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