A big step forward has been made in the fight against plastic pollution in our oceans. The UK government has announced that it fully supports a ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetics.
Previously the government had rejected a ban on microbeads, favouring a voluntary approach from individual brands. But growing pressure has resulted in the government admitting that a ban is the right way forward.
A statement from Greenpeace says: "The UK Government has finally acknowledged that banning microbeads is the right thing to do, and that we can’t just rely on companies to police themselves and phase out these toxic plastics.”
“At Greenpeace we’re calling on the UK Government to lead the way by introducing a comprehensive ban on microbeads in all consumer products that might end up in our oceans, not just cosmetics. But today’s admission by the Government is encouraging, and with over 300,000 people already backing our campaign to #BantheBead, we’re getting closer week by week.”
Green People against microbeads
To celebrate World Oceans Day on 8th June 2016, Green People, along with three other leading organic beauty brands, wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, David Cameron to implore him to take action against microbeads.
This work is now finally starting to pay off, but we can’t take the pressure off just yet. Although the government has acknowledged that a ban is the right way forward, we have yet to see how this ban would shape up and whether it would go far enough to protect our oceans.
Microbead-free face scrubs
What are microbeads?
Microbeads are tiny plastic particles, usually made from polyethylene (PE), that are less than five millimetres in size. In reality most microbeads in cosmetics are very much smaller than this, measuring around the thickness of a human hair.
Microbeads are added to some cosmetic products such as scrubs, toothpastes and washes to give an exfoliating action and for aesthetic appeal. When these products are rinsed off, the microbeads are washed down the drain and are too small to be filtered out at sewage treatment plants.
As a result, millions of tiny plastics are released into the water and can be eaten by fish. We in turn eat the fish and may unwittingly ingest these toxins.
In December 2015, the leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, called for the UK to take action against microbeads. Bennett told the Independent: “The US has acted, and the UK should be acting right now. The evidence is clear and unequivocal: microbeads in cosmetics products are ending up in our waters, in our sealife, and in our own bodies, with pesticides and other chemicals attached.”
Green People has never used plastic microbeads in any of its products. Instead ingredients such as Bamboo powder, Sugar and fruit enzymes are used to give fantastic exfoliating effects for smoother, more radiant skin, naturally.
The plastic problem
Green People has always championed the use of non-plastic exfoliators and this promising stance from the UK government is a great sign for environmental groups and charities that have campaigned against microbeads for many years.
One such charity is the Marine Conservation Society, which launched the ‘Scrub It Out!’ campaign in 2014 to raise awareness of the dangers of microbeads to marine ecosystems and to give consumers an easy way to choose products that don’t contain damaging plastics.
There is undeniably a long way to go in clearing up our oceans. Writing in National Geographic, Laura Parker observes: "The numbers are staggering: there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometre litter the deep sea.”
Clearly this is not a problem that can be solved with one new law, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction. The fact that it has been acknowledged by those with the power to make change is a sign that environmental issues are being taken more seriously.
Update January 2018
Since this post was published, a production ban on using microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products has come into force in the UK.
The ban prevents manufacturers from using microbeads in their products with immediate effect, and stipulates that retailers will no longer be able to sell products containing microbeads as of July 2018.
The ban comes after campaigners called for microplastics to be removed from all cosmetic and personal care products due to the harm they pose to marine life and the contamination risk they pose to global drinking water supplies.
Whilst campaigners celebrate a victory against microbeads their fight to protect the planet from pollutant plastics continues. Environmental Scientists are now turning their attention to glitter and calling for its use in cosmetics to reviewed.
Often made from plastic, when glitter goes down the plug hole it can be consumed by marine life and end up in the human food chain. Far from adding a touch of sparkle to our suppers, the plastic used to make glitter is thought to release chemicals that can disrupt hormones in the bodies of animals and humans.
Campaigners are calling for manufacturers that use glitter in their products to consider using safer, non-toxic biodegradable plastic instead.