THE UK government has announced plans to ban cosmetics and care products that contain microbeads due to the damage they cause to sea life.
Plastic microbeads – used as exfoliants in personal care products – are so small that they slip through most water treatment systems and end up washed out into rivers, lakes and the seas. Microbeads can attract and retain toxins present in the water and are eaten by fish and other marine life. As well as introducing toxins to the food chain, they are also thought to block the gut or damage the digestive tract of animals, or convince the animal that it is full – eventually causing death by starvation.
Announcing a consultation on the ban, UK environment secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Most people would be dismayed to know the face scrub or toothpaste they use was causing irreversible damage to the environment, with billions of indigestible plastic pieces poisoning sea creatures.”
A consultation will be launched later this year to establish how and when a ban could be introduced, with the goal to change legislation next year.
“Adding plastic to products like face washes and body scrubs is wholly unnecessary when harmless alternatives can be used,” Leadsom noted.
Alternatives include Evonik’s Sipernat microbeads, which are made from amorphous silica, the same substance as sand; and TerraVerdae BioWorks’ biodegradable beads made from polyhydroxyalkanoates. Manufacturers are also exploring exfoliants made from nut shells, salt and sugar.
Twenty-five UK cosmetics and toiletries companies, such as Unilever, have already taken steps to voluntarily phase out microbeads from their products.
Leadsom said the ban is the next step in tackling the plastic waste polluting the seas, following the introduction of a charge on plastic bags, which has led to 6 bn fewer bags being issued this year.
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