The UK has officially banned microbeads, in one of the world’s toughest bans on the harmful pieces of plastic.
From Tuesday, in a “landmark step,” microbeads can no longer be used in “rinse-off” cosmetic and personal care products, according to the announcement by Environment Minister Therese Coffey.
“The world’s 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.
Today @theresecoffey has announced that a ban on the manufacture of products containing #microbeads comes into force. It’s a landmark step in the introduction of one of the world’s toughest bans on these harmful pieces of plastic #GreenBrexithttps://t.co/v5z5kLEcBPpic.twitter.com/0upYi5AWFo— Defra UK (@DefraGovUK) January 9, 2018
“This ban puts us as the forefront of the international effort to crack down on plastic pollution and protect our marine environment,” she added.
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Microbeads, which are often invisible to the naked eye, “wreak havoc” on our marine wildlife, Coffey said..
The tiny plastics could, before Tuesday’s ban, be found in everyday cosmetic products like body scrubs, face washes, toothpaste, and cleaning products.
And a single shower could result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean, with thousands of tonnes of microbeads wash into the sea every year.
Because they are too small to be filtered out by sewage systems, microbeads end up in the oceans where they can be mistaken for food and eaten by marine life, altering the food chain with dangerous consequences.
They have also been found to be entering the diets of people. The average person who eats seafood swallows an estimated 11,000 pieces of microplastic every year, according to researchers at the University of Ghent.
A Greenpeace report also found that some species of young fish had begun to prefer plastic to their natural food source, thanks to the increasing amount of plastics in the ocean. There are some 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world’s seas, according to comprehensive research published in the journal PLOS One.
Scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand found that, collectively, the plastic in the oceans weighs nearly 269,000 tonnes, with the majority being microplastics measuring less than 5mm.
“Now we have reached this important milestone,” continued Coffey, “we will explore how we can build on our world-leading ban and tackle other forms of plastic waste.”
Our ban on microbeads is coming into force today. It will stop billions of pieces of plastic entering our ecosystem, helping to protect our precious seas and oceans. pic.twitter.com/gG39Dc0aLS— Theresa May (@theresa_may) January 9, 2018
The latest effort stands alongside the success of the 2015 introduction of the plastic bag charge — which has resulted in 9 billion fewer plastic bags in circulation
Greenpeace UK said it welcomed the “great news,” which it described as a “positive sign of Britain’s global leadership on ocean plastics.”
Other countries around the world have passed or are in the process of passing bans on microbeads, including the US and Canada.
However, it’s not quite a complete ban in the UK, with “leave-on” products like sunscreen and makeup still allowed to contain microbeads.
That’s due to resistance from the cosmetic industry which said it would need to reformulate 90% of products, which would be “difficult” and “expensive,” according to the Independent.
Shops will still be able to sell products containing microbeads that were produced before Tuesday, with the ban applying to manufacturers rather than shops.
The Department for Environment has said that a ban on the sale of products containing microbeads will follow in July.
BREAKING: Today, two years after first campaigning to ban microbeads, we welcome the great news that rinse-off cosmetic products can no longer be manufactured using microbeads in the UK!— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) January 9, 2018
There are still plenty of natural alternatives to microbeads to choose from that won’t harm the environment, such as scrubs including coffee grounds, sugar, or salt granules.
The intention to ban microbeads in the UK was first announced in September 2016, and had been pledged to come into force in 2017.
The decision came after MPs called for urgent action on the harmful microplastics polluting the world’s oceans, and celebrities like Ellie Goulding and Dougie Poynter joined the effort.
“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,” said Andrea Leadsom, when the ban was first announced.
Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN Global Goals, including for life under water. You can join us by taking action to protect our oceans here.