Despite renewed pledges from the industry to voluntarily step up efforts to reduce and remove microbeads in personal care products, the government was quick to step in with an official ban over the weekend.
The UK environment secretary Andrea Leadsom explained the motivation behind the ban, which will bring the UK in-line with major markets across the world already removing beads from personal care products, including the US.
“Adding plastic to products like face washes and body scrubs is wholly unnecessary when harmless alternatives can be used,” she stated. “Together we can bring an end to these harmful plastics clogging up our oceans.”
Industry steps it up
The ban comes despite various efforts from brands and retailers to tackle the issue of microbeads for themselves, and will shore up commitments made in recent days by industry players in the UK.
According to the government release announcing the ban, twenty-five UK cosmetics and toiletries companies, such as Unilever, have already taken steps to voluntarily phase out microbeads from their products.
In terms of retailers, supermarket chain Waitrose has announced they will stop stocking such products by the end of September, and the Daily Mail reports that Superdrug and Boots, two major high street personal care retailers, both gave ‘ultimatums’ last week to the brands they stock to discontinue microbead use.
While trade body Cosmetics Europe had been working towards a voluntary microbead withdrawal by 2020, popular and political pressure in the country has resulted in the earlier 2017 deadline now imposed by the ban.
Is it enough?
General consensus accepts the damage that microbeads, which absorb and harbour pollution, have on waterways and marine life should be tackled.
However, microplastics are used in a range of products, not limited - like the ban - to beauty and personal care items.
Indeed, environmental group 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.
The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) echoed these calls, noting, “Unfortunately, the fact is that even this action [the ban] will not have a significant impact on the enormous problem of plastic litter in the seas since the quantities from other, non-cosmetic, sources dwarf the amount of microbeads we once used.
“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."