The Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, just announced that microbeads in cosmetic and cleaning products will be banned in the UK by 2017. What most people do not understand is why this ban is necessary.
MPs recently called for a worldwide ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetic products after the release of a report by the Environmental Audit Committee stating that microbeads are highly dangerous for the marine environment.
These tiny microbeads have become popular in face scrubs and toothpastes over the past few years, as they are supposed to be great for exfoliating the skin. Unfortunately, due to the fact that some of them are less than a millimetre wide, they are often missed by water filters after being rinsed off and end up in the sewerage system and get washed out to sea.
These non-biodegradable plastic microbeads are causing irreparable marine damage as they are accumulating in the world’s oceans, lakes and estuaries, and are being ingested by sea-dwelling creatures at the bottom of the food chain, which has wider implications across the food chain.
Mrs Leadsom said: “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.”
The UK is not the first country to ban microbeads; the United States also declared in January 2016 that it was banning the production of personal care products and cosmetics containing plastic microbeads from July 2017. This was done after the publication of a United National Environment Programme (UNEP) report that concluded that most of the microbeads contained non-degradable polymers that may take hundreds of years to break down via oxidative or photodegradation routes.
The US has also stated that the sale of cosmetics containing microbeads will be illegal beginning July 2018, and over-the-counter drugs containing these plastic particles by July 2019.
The EAC will also recommend that this issue is monitored and tackled at its source, after considering Water UK’s evidence that separating microplastics from organic content in wastewater would require substantial levels of further investment into additional filtration systems.