Microbeads have finally been banned from cosmetic products in the UK

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Susan Devaney
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The UK government has finally banned the use of microbeads within all beauty and personal use products. 

A UK-wide ban on the manufacture of cosmetic products containing microbeads has come into effect today (Tuesday 9 January).

From July onwards, products containing microbeads will no longer be allowed to be sold, consumed or manufactured across the country – and it’s great news for our planet.

Microbeads – tiny bits of plastic found in many beauty products such as toothpaste and exfoliating scrubs – have a detrimental effect on our oceans as they make their way to the sea from our sinks and back: sea life ingest the bits of plastic and people then eat the sea life.

“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 environment minister Thérèse Coffey.

“Now we have reached this important milestone, we will explore how we can build on our world-leading ban and tackle other forms of plastic waste.”

Microbeads are tiny bits of plastic found in many beauty products such as toothpaste and exfoliating scrubs.

The UK government first pledged to ban microbeads in September 2016 after microbeads were banned in the USA in 2015 under the presidency of Barack Obama.

“Trillions of tiny pieces of plastic are accumulating in the world’s oceans, lakes and estuaries, harming marine life and entering the food chain. The microbeads in scrubs, shower gels and toothpastes are an avoidable part of this plastic pollution problem,” Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh said in August 2017. 

“A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean. Cosmetic companies’ voluntary approach to phasing out plastic microbeads simply won’t wash.”

Microbeads listed on products usually appear as nylon, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and polyethylene (PE). 

“A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.”

Dilyana Mihaylova, at Fauna & Flora International, said:

“We are delighted that a robust UK microbeads ban comes into force today. We hope this ban signals the dawn of a new era in the fight for cleaner, healthier oceans.”

Greenpeace UK, who first started a campaign to ban microbeads two years ago, took to Twitter to celebrate the decision, saying:

“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!”

On Sunday 7 January, Theresa May shared the government’s stance on reducing single-use plastics in the UK via Twitter:

“In 2015 we introduced the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags, we now see 9 billion fewer bags being used. It’s making a real difference. We want to do the same with single use plastics. Nobody who watched Blue Planet 2 will doubt the need for us to do something - and we will.”

There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of eliminating plastic from our oceans, but it’s a step in the right in direction.

Images: Andreas Fidler / iStock