As of the 9th January 2018, the UK has banned the use of microbeads in cosmetic and personal care products manufactured in the UK. The move has been hailed by some environmental groups as a very important step to reducing the amount of plastic that enters the world’s oceans, but others argue that it does not go far enough. The ban on UK manufactured products will increase to all products sold in the UK in July 2018.
Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic often used in shower gels and face scrubs and get washed off in the process of using them. It is estimated that about 100,000 plastic particles are washed through the sewage system from the use of shower gels containing these microplastics in a single shower. When products contain are used and then enter the water system, they eventually find their way into the ocean.
Of the total marine microplastic pollution, it is thought that between 0.01% to 4.1% originate from the cosmetic products that are being banned under the new UK regulations. There are many more sources of microplastics (packaging and construction) that produce much greater microplastic pollution than what is included in this ban.
Once microbeads (and plastics in general) enter water sources, they can often be eaten by animals that depend on the marine ecosystem to survive. Microbeads are often mistaken for food and eaten by fish and other marine animals which can lead to negative physical or chemical effects. If you watched the final episode of Blue Planet on BBC then you would have seen the effects plastics are having on the marine ecosystem, directly and indirectly.
It will affect us too. There are growing concerns that fish and shellfish, which are a huge part of the diet of millions of people around the world, are ingesting these microbeads and passing on the toxic chemicals from these plastics when we consume them, potentially causing a number of issues over the safety of seafood.
What we can do as individuals
The move by the UK Government is a start. It stops only a small percentage of microbeads entering the ocean but hopefully its the first in a domino-style chain of events that eventually leads to a global ban on microbeads.
It doesn’t just take a ban from the government for action to be taken though. Whilst the ban will eventually remove some products that contain microbeads, there are many more products that are not included in the ban that will remain on shelves in supermarkets. That’s where we as individuals come in.
The website ‘Beat the Microbead‘ lists hundreds of products that are available in a number of countries all over the world that contain microbeads and whether companies have promised to phase out microbeads from their products. It’s an easy way of working out whether products each of us uses contain these dangerous plastics and what products do not use them. Changing to these products that don’t contain microbeads can have huge benefits on the environment, and it’s a very easy and simple change that each of us can make. So encourage family and friends, and each of us can reduce our impact on the environment!