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Ban all microplastics

Businesses join campaigners to call for an all-out ban on microbeads
Ban all microplastics

When the government’s microbeads consultation closed this week, businesses joined environmental campaigners in calling for a comprehensive ban on microbeads.

All in the rinse

Campaigners have warned that the current proposals would see the ban limited to microplastic ingredients of 5mm or less in ‘rinse off’ personal care and cosmetic products.

This ambiguous term, which has caused confusion among industry and campaigners alike, excludes many of the products that are flushed down the drain or discharged into the marine environment – from cleaning products to make-up.

A survey carried out by the Microbeads Coalition suggests 42% of those who wear make-up end up washing it down the drain.

Setting the standard

The concern is that microbeads will be banned in ‘rinse off’ exfoliation products while other products containing microplastics could continue to be sold.

‘Many countries around the world, from India to Korea to New Zealand, are now looking at banning microplastics in products that can end up in the sea, and they’re looking to the UK to provide a model of how best to do that. By implementing a robust and comprehensive ban of microplastics in all products which can reach drainage, this government can have a truly global impact.

‘We’ve already seen the problematic loopholes in the US legislation, which limited the ban to ‘rinse off’ products that perform an ‘exfoliating’ function and ended up allowing other types of products containing microplastics to keep pouring into our oceans.

‘With trillions of microplastics already in the sea, this really is a global issue and the British Government must seize the opportunity to create a world-leading ban.’

The Microbeads Coalition

‘It’s make or break time’

Campaigners from the Microbeads Coalition, which consists of the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and the Marine Conservation Society, said it was ‘make or break time for the microbeads ban’.

Businesses including health and beauty brand Neal’s Yard Remedies, NCH Europe (which produces industrial cleaning products) and Anglian Water have now joined calls for the government to implement a complete ban on microplastic ingredients.

‘It’s make or break time for the microbeads ban, which must be expanded from the government’s current proposals to ensure that it covers any products containing microplastic ingredients that are likely to enter our seas. It makes no sense for the Government to apply this ban to one industry, whilst leaving others to pollute our oceans with these tiny plastics.’


A global issue

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has urged everyone to eliminate the use of microplastics and stop the use of single-use plastic to save the world’s seas and oceans from irreversible damage before it’s too late.

‘Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.’

Executive director of UNEP

Through its Clean Seas campaign, the agency has urged countries and businesses to take ambitious measures to eliminate microplastics from personal-care products, ban or tax single-use plastic bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items by 2022.

Ten countries have already joined the initiative with far-reaching pledges: Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by 70% by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year and Costa Rica will take measures to reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education.

The scale of the problem

With up to 80% of all litter in the oceans made of plastic, these initiatives could not come sooner.

According to estimates, by 2050 99% of Earth’s seabirds will have ingested plastic.

An illustration of the sheer magnitude of the problem is that as much as 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – litter the seas.

Each year, more than eight million metric tonnes of plastic end up in oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism – and creating at least $8 billion of damage to marine ecosystems. According to estimates, by 2050 oceans will have more plastic than fish if present trends are not arrested.

The proposals

The Microbeads Coalition is calling for the government to follow the guidelines below, developed by Fauna & Flora International and as recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee.

  • Any definition of ‘microbeads’ must include all solid water insoluble plastic ingredients smaller than 5mm used for any purpose (not just for exfoliation). There should be no lower size limit included in the definition
  • The legislation should cover all products that are washed down the drain or discharged into the aquatic environment. This includes a wide range of cosmetic and personal care products as well as industrial cleaning products, make-up and other product categories
  • Legislation should not allow so-called ‘biodegradable’ plastics to be used as alternatives, as these materials do not degrade in the marine environment and therefore are not a solution to the problem
  • There should be a clear and prompt timeline for phasing out these ingredients, and a date after which products containing microplastics must not be sold. This should be within two years of the ban

Click here to view the government’s microbeads consultation.

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