‘More needs to be done’ as microbeads ban comes into force

A ban on the manufacture of certain products containing plastic microbeads has today (9 January) entered into force, although MPs and green groups have reiterated that more action is needed to tackle the global problem of plastic waste.

From today, companies are prohibited from producing products that contain “rinse-off microbeads”. The most common products impacted by the ban will be exfoliating scrubs, toothpaste and shower gels. Leave-on microbeads – found products like paints and sunscreen – will not be affected.

The Government also revealed that all sales of products containing rinse-off microbeads – small pieces of plastic that can pass through water filtration systems into the marine environment – will be prohibited from July 2018. The Government first pledged to the ban back in 2016.

The ban was introduced following the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) inquiry and report into the ‘Environmental impact of microplastics’. The EAC’s chair Mary Creagh, noted that the ban was a “step in the right direction” to tackle the amount of plastic entering into the oceans.

“Our seas are choked with massive quantities of polluting microplastics, which absorb chemicals, are eaten by wildlife and enter the food chain,” Creagh said. “Microbeads in cosmetics are an avoidable part of the problem, which is why we called for a ban.

“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.”

It is estimated that between 80,000 and 219,000 tonnes of microplastics enter the marine environment across Europe per year. These tiny pieces of plastic, as small as 5mm wide, end up in the oceans and are swallowed by marine life.

The ban was announced following a two-month consultation looking at what steps could be taken to prevent other sources of plastic from entering the marine environment. The Government has confirmed that it will liaise with the Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee (HSAC) to discuss further action for other products.

The plastics problem

Almost all of Britain’s major retailers have pledged to phase out harmful microbeads from their own-brand cosmetic and beauty products. However, critics have claimed some companies were exploiting loopholes or dragging their feet on a phase-out.

Friends of the Earth waste campaigner Julian Kirby responded: “The ban on microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics and cleaning products is an important step towards protecting wildlife and human health from the scourge of plastic pollution.

“But unfortunately, the ban does not cover a long list of products, such as sunscreen, lipstick and paints – and of course microbeads are only one part of the huge plastic pollution problem we currently face.

“It’s clear that a wholesale review of UK waste prevention policies is desperately needed. It’s time to put responsibility for ending plastic pollution with the companies that make and market these products in the first place.”

The microbeads ban is just one part of the UK Government’s aim to combat plastics pollution, which now accounts for 95% of the rubbish in our oceans.

Ministers are currently consulting on how a tax system or charges could reduce the amount of single-use plastics waste and Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that the Government will introduce a 5p charge on plastic bottles.

The Government’s much-anticipated 25-Year Environment Plan will map out various pledges to improve specific areas of the environment including water, natural capital, air quality and resource efficiency. It is thought that proposals on tackling plastic waste go further than the plastic bottle deposit return scheme suggested by Defra Secretary Michael Gove.

Matt Mace

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