After years of campaigning by environmentalists and green groups, the UK government has finally initiated a long-promised ban on plastic microbeads used in many cosmetic and cleaning products. From Tuesday, the manufacturing of these tiny shards of plastic will now be illegal, with a full ban on selling products containing microbeads coming into force in July.
The landmark move is one of the world’s toughest rulings in the outlawing of the miniature pieces of plastic, most of which get washed down the plughole and end up in our rivers and oceans, and follows a similar ban ushered in by the Obama administration two years ago.
“We are delighted that such a robust microbead ban has come into force,” said Dr Sue Kinsey, the Senior Pollution Officer for the Marine Conservation Society. “This is the strongest and most comprehensive ban to be enacted in the world and will help to stem the flow of microplastics into our oceans.”
From exfoliating facewash to minty toothpaste, microbeads have been a common component in many of our lives for quite some time now. With every use of such products, up to 100,000 bits of plastic go down the sink, and only relatively recently did we become aware of the damage this is wreaking on the aquatic environment.
Once they're in the ocean, a whole host of sea life like fish and mollusks mistake the fragments of microplastic for food and eat them. This then builds up in their bodies, and as the smaller fish are eaten by predators, the little bits of plastics start to accumulate in them in turn, all the way up the food chain. Even for us, it is thought likely that you could be consuming up to 11,000 bits of microplastic a year.
“The world’s seas and oceans are some of our most valuable natural assets and I am determined we act now to tackle the plastic that devastates our precious marine life,” the UK’s Environment Minister Thérèse 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.”
With the imposing of the plastic bag tax last year, which has led to 9 billion fewer single-use bags being used, it helps show that these sorts of regulations really do work. As people and politicians are becoming more aware of the amount of plastic in our oceans and the damage it is doing to the wildlife, there is a growing push towards finding a way to limit its use, with this latest microbead ban a big step in the right direction.