It is estimated that 16-86 tons of plastic microbeads are washed up along sea shores in the UK every year. The harmful microscopic plastic particles are produced from a whole host of cosmetic products such as exfoliating scrubs and some toothpastes. Last year, after months of campaigning, environmental groups finally piled the pressure on the UK government, and the environment secretary Andrea Leadsom promised that she would enforce a ban for the use of microbeads in these products. However, one month on, this act has been stalled by the EU regulatory body over concerns that this could restrict laws which call for free movement of trade even in a post-Brexit era. Whilst other European countries have voted to ban microbeads, the EU has not allowed the act to take place which questions whether the UK will ever be able to implement this under EU law.
The campaign sprang into action last year in the hope that the ban could be implemented by 2017 to prevent any more harm on the seas and its wildlife. A petition signed by more than 300,000 people was delivered to David Cameron last June. It was decided that if the EU would not pass the request for the ban then the UK would set up their own regulation to prevent the manufacturing use of microbeads.
Find our more about our second annual Bio-Based Live Europe conference taking place at the University of Amsterdam on May 31st-June 1st!
Why are microbeads so harmful?
Microbeads are too small to be filtered by sewage treatment plants allowing them to freely enter the oceans. As a result they are ingested by marine creatures and the impact is deadly. Studies have shown that the plastic particles kill fish before they reach a reproductive age. Additionally, the beads are passed up in the food-chain which can then be eaten by us. With other alternatives such as ground nutshells and salt there is no reason for legislation to stay the same.
However, a team of environmental groups said in an article in The Guardian that “[The ban] must cover all microplastics as marine life doesn’t distinguish between plastic from a face wash and plastic from a washing detergent.” The Environment Investigation Agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and the Marine Conservation Society have all backed the ban but emphasise that it needs to be extended to other household products and EU countries before it can truly make a difference. “The microbeads ban must cover all plastics in all household and industrial products that can go down our drains."
Under current EU regulation, the trade agreements do state that product restrictions may be put in place for “non-economic environmental reasons” as cited in a report. Ministers must prove that any sort of ban can be supported by scientific evidence, and secondly it must not discriminate against producers in any EU state. With regards to microbeads case, the law advises that the proposed legislation is open to legal challenge from cosmetic companies that would be affected.
But Mary Creagh, Labour chairman of the Commons environment audit committee, said in an article by The Independent: “Consumers want to see these harmful plastics removed and many of the big players are doing it – it would fly in the face of consumer wishes for the industry to take legal action.”
The UK government have now taken the opportunity to provide evidence to prove the environmental implications from the tiny beads to protect marine and human life. In England, it is hoped that a ban can be put into place on 1 January 2018 which would put an end to the microbeads found in cosmetic and personal care products. A ban on sales would then follow from 30 June 2018, with Scotland and Wales not far behind.
For more related stories you might be interested in: