UK looks set to tackle microbeads amid calls to ‘avoid the loopholes’

By Lucy Whitehouse

- Last updated on GMT

UK looks set to tackle microbeads amid calls to ‘avoid the loopholes’

Related tags Personal care products Cosmetics

The UK government’s Environmental Audit Committee has called for a ban in the use of microbeads in cosmetics, which it recommends the country implements even if the EU avoids doing so.

Especially pertinent in light of the recent ‘Brexit’ vote, the UK government group’s call for a ban on microbeads at either EU or national level indicates that some form of legislation is likely to be put in place against the beads in the UK.

“Cosmetic companies' voluntary approach to phasing out plastic microbeads simply won't wash,”​ the committee’s chair Mary Creagh MP has said. “We need a full legal ban, preferably at an international level as pollution does not respect borders.

“If this isn't possible after our vote to leave the EU, then the Government should introduce a national ban. The best way to reduce this pollution is to prevent plastic being flushed into the sea in the first place."

Microbeads are small plastic articles, often used in personal care products for their ‘exfoliating’ effect. They have been found to collect high concentrations of pollution, impacting on waterways and the marine life that ingests them.

Close any loopholes: not just cosmetics

Since the report’s release, Greenpeace has released a statement calling for microplastics to be banned across the board, not just those used for exfoliation.

“There should be no lower size limit included in the definition.The legislation should cover all products that are commonly washed down the drain,”​ the environmental group asserted in a statement.

“This includes a wide range of cosmetic and personal care products as well as many household cleaners and other product categories.”

Indeed, the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) notes in its statement on the committee’s report that the contamination is not driven by cosmetics.

“As the EAC report explains, the percentage contribution from cosmetic products to the contamination is small, but the European cosmetics industry is already taking action to stop the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetic products where those microbeads are likely to enter waterways and ultimately the marine environment.”

Progress being made

Despite the EAC’s assertion that a voluntary approach ‘won’t wash’, the CTPA explains that the industry is already making clear strides to tackle the issue of microplastic as pollutants in waterways.

“Companies have reported that any remaining use of plastic microbeads in wash-off products will have been phased-out by 2018, two years ahead of the recommended date of 2020. The findings​ [of a CTPA study] also show that the use of plastic microbeads had already decreased significantly from figures published earlier in 2015, and by a further 70% since October 2015,” ​the group notes.

The association, however, welcomes governmental input on the reduction of microbeads in the industry, noting, “We look to Government to address plastics pollution on a wider basis to understand the scale of the problem and work towards a sustainable solution.”

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