UK announces plans for microbead ban as it scales up sealife protection
United Kingdom Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom has outlined plans to ban the manufacture and sale of cosmetics and personal care products containing tiny pieces of plastic, commonly known as “microbeads.”
Each year, billions of tiny beads end up in the world's oceans 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 ban follows the successful introduction of the GBP 0.05 (USD 0.07, EUR 0.06) plastic bag charge levied at U.K. retail customers, which has led to six billion fewer bags issued this year.
A consultation will launch later this year with the intention to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing microbeads that harm the marine environment. 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.
Leadsom said the microbead ban would be the next step in government action to tackle plastic in the U.K.'s waters.
“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," Leadsom said. “This government is committed to its promise to be the first generation ever to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited, and together we can bring an end to these harmful plastics clogging up our oceans."
Twenty-five U.K. cosmetics and toiletries companies, such as Unilever, have already taken steps to voluntarily phase out microbeads from their products. Waitrose has announced it will stop stocking such products by the end of September.
Manufacturers are exploring natural alternatives, including nutshells, salt and sugar, which have the same exfoliating properties but do not pose a threat to the environment.
The government will consult industry, environmental groups and other relevant parties to establish how and when a ban could be initiated, aiming to introduce legislation next year.