Microbeads in 'Rinse-Off' Cosmetics to Be Outlawed, but Not 'Leave On' Products
In a move which has been broadly welcomed by environmental groups, the UK government is to implement a ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetic and personal care products that are classed as 'rinse-off', including the likes of exfoliating shower gel, toothpaste and other products that are used and immediately flushed into the water supply. The ban is due to be implemented by the end of this year, with production being banned from 1 January 2018 and the sale of such products banned by 30 June.
The legislation does not include 'stay-on' products such as make-up and sunscreen due to resistance from the cosmetics industry, who claim that thousands of products would need to be reformulated, and at great expense, adding that 'large quantities of products would have to go to landfill if insufficient time were given for reformulation.' It is expected that the ban will eventually be extended to all products thanks to worldwide campaigns in recent years which have exposed the dangers of microplastics in the world's oceans.
Research has shown that tiny pieces of plastic - often a result of the degradation of larger items - are ingested by aquatic life resulting in death via poisoning or starvation. Furthermore, there is evidence that this plastic eventually enters the food chain; shellfish are especially vulnerable as the microscopic plastic particles are directly embedded in the animal's flesh.
Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner Louisa Casson said: 'The UK government has just proposed the strongest ban on microbeads in the world to date. This is great news for our environment and a positive sign of Britain's global leadership on ocean plastics. It's crucial that ministers have left the door open to broadening the ban in future. To achieve a fully comprehensive ban covering all products that go down the drain, we need companies to be much more transparent about when their products contain harmful microbeads.'
In a statement on their facebook page, the Marine Conservation Society's Dr Laura Foster said: 'It's a good start but we want to see microbeads banned from any product that's likely to end up going down the drain,' adding that 'many people don't realise that when they're applying some kinds of sunscreen they're covering their bodies with bits of microplastic, used to reflect sunlight. Even if you want to be conscientious & buy a product that doesn't have plastic in, you're completely confused when you go and look at the ingredients.'
Part of the problem associated with microbeads in cosmetics is the lack of information on product labels, however until the ban is implemented and extended to all products, consciencious consumers should look for the following in the list of ingredients: polyethylene (PTE), polypropylene (PTFE) and polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA).
For those who are still uncertain, website Beat the Microbead has a list of products containing harmful plastic particles, and an app which allows users to scan product barcodes with their smartphone to determine if they are plastic free or not.