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UK Government Announces Microbead Ban

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The UK government is to implement a ban on the manufacture of all 'rinse-off' products that contain microbeads.

Rinse-off is a term used to cover personal care products such as toothpaste and exfoliating shower gels that result in the immediate distribution of microbeads into the water system during their use. As of 8 January, their manufacture is now prohibited, however, a ban on the sale of such products will not come into effect until July. The ban does not extend to products that are classed as 'stay-on', which includes some brands of suncream and make-up

Microbeads are tiny plastic spheres that are added to cosmetic products as an aid to exfoliation or tooth cleaning, however, they do not degrade and are so small, they pass through water filtration systems and eventually find their way into the ocean. Estimates suggest that up to 100,000 microbeads are flushed into the water system for every shower taken with microbead-based cosmetics.

Added to the problem of other microplastics – the generic term given to tiny particles of plastic that are formed as a result of larger pieces breaking down over time – microbeads are ingested by some species of marine life, which in turn leads to potential poisoning right to the top of the food chain, as larger creatures consume the smaller.

Evidence that microplastics, including microbeads, has worked its way into the human food chain is clear, especially with the likes of shellfish such as oysters, in which tiny pieces of plastic have been found within their flesh. Microplastics have been found from the surface to the deep seas, as reported by Scottish Association for Marine Science in 2017.

Announcing the start of the ban, Environment Minister Therese Coffey said: 'Microbeads are entirely unnecessary when there are so many natural alternatives available, and I am delighted that from today cosmetics manufacturers will no longer be able to add this harmful plastic to their rinse-off products.'

The ban has been broadly welcomed by environmental campaigners, some are warning that it does not go far enough. 'There are lots of products that are not included in the ban which will continue to be made and sold that contain microplastic ingredients,' said Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the UK's Marine Conservation Society. 'The next step should be to consider extending the scope of the ban to more products such as suncreams and make-ups that are in common use.' 

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