MPs call for outright ban on plastic microbeads from cosmetics products

The UK Government has today (24 August) been urged by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to completely ban cosmetic companies from using environmentally harmful plastic microbeads in bathroom products by the end of 2017.

A new report published today (24 August) by the cross-party EAC has concluded that plastic microbeads in products such as exfoliating scrubs, toothpastes and shaving gels are causing avoidable pollution that enters the food chain and severely harms marine life.

Committee chair Mary Creagh is warning that “the end of the road is coming” for businesses that continue to “hitch a free ride” from compliant companies. Speaking exclusively to edie before the report’s release, Labour MP Creagh said it is “completely unacceptable” that 86 tonnes of microplastics enter the marine environment every year from the UK cosmetics industry.

“The Government is clear that it wants to work with other European countries to get a Europe-wide ban on microbeads and that is what we’re recommending as a best-case scenario,” Creagh said. “But in the event that Brexit makes that difficult, we are recommending a national ban.”

Consumer confidence

Most large cosmetics companies have made voluntary commitments to phase out microbeads by 2020. L’Oréal announced in 2014 that it would phase out polyethylene microbeads by 2017, starting with its Biotherm and Body Shop brands; while Unilever stopped using them over a year ago.

But the EAC believes this voluntary approach simply doesn’t not go far enough to create sustainable business consistency or increase consumer confidence in the cosmetics industry. In it’s 42-page report, the EAC is demanding a national ban on microbeads by the end of 2017, in addition to the introduction of a clear labelling scheme during the transitional period of a voluntary phase out.

Creagh added: “We welcome the efforts that the industry has taken but there are problems with them because some companies have not engaged with those efforts, others will just hitch a free ride on the back of the people that are doing the right thing. We want a level playing field for all cosmetics companies across all products and all types of plastics.”

“Most people would be aghast to learn that their beauty products are causing this ugly pollution. Cosmetic companies need to come clean and clearly label their products containing plastics.”

‘Extreme harm’

According to the EAC report, which is based on written evidence from 49 organisations including Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal and numerous British water companies, between 80,000 and 219,000 tonnes of microplastics enter the marine environment across Europe per year.

It is estimated that as much as 51 trillion microplastic particles have accumulated in the world’s oceans. These small particals (microplastics) accumulate inside fish and other marine life, becoming more concentrated and toxic as they are passed up the food chain. Last month, scientists revealed that plastic dumped into the seas around the UK is carried to the Arctic within just two years, where it does “extreme harm” to the fragile polar environment.

Little progress has been made by the cosmetics industry to completely eradicate microbeads, despite almost all of Britain’s major retailers pledging to phase out harmful microbeads from their own-brand cosmetic and beauty products. Voluntary action by to phase out the use of microbeads in Europe has already come under strong attack from MPs, who gave evidence to the EAC on the issue in June; criticising loopholes in the pledges and condemning the lack of labelling on products containing the plastic particles.

Stay tuned to edie for the full, exclusive interview with EAC chair Mary Creagh later this week.

George Ogleby

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