Could the UK be on the brink of banning microplastics from cosmetics?

A statement by George Eustice – the UK Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment – announcing that the UK Government now backs a ban on the use of polluting plastic microbeads in cosmetics, has been greeted with cautious optimism by a coalition of NGOs working to address this unnecessary source of microplastic pollution.

In response to this announcement, the coalition – which brings together the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and the Marine Conservation Society – has issued its own statement:

“As environmental groups campaigning against plastic pollution in our oceans, we’re very encouraged by the recent government acknowledgment that banning microbeads is the correct approach, rather than relying on voluntary phase outs by the industry.

“However, while it’s welcome news that our government will be lobbying the EU for a Europe-wide ban, they still have not committed to a UK ban, nor have they outlined exactly what a ban would cover. In order for a ban to be meaningful it needs to cover all solid microplastics in consumer products that may end up being washed down our drains and into the oceans.

“Nevertheless, this latest announcement by the government is a great step forward, and with over 300,000 people already backing our campaign to #BantheBead, we’re getting closer week by week.”

Coalition of environmental groups hand in the microbeads petition in London. Credit: David Mirzoeff/Greenpeace.

Coalition of environmental groups hand in the microbeads petition in London. Credit: David Mirzoeff/Greenpeace.

From obscurity to limelight…and beyond

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) began tackling microplastic pollution in 2013, when it launched the Good Scrub Guide as a way to engage with businesses and help consumers find microplastic-free products.

In the years since, this issue – once virtually unheard of outside scientific circles – has become a hot topic.

The work by FFI and other members of the coalition (including public education, campaigning, and positive engagement with cosmetics manufacturers and retailers), coupled with high profile-coverage in the national and international press, have brought this once arcane topic to the fore of British politics.

On 24 May, coalition members were invited to provide evidence at a UK Environmental Audit Committee hearing, where they argued that voluntary steps taken by the cosmetics industry are undermined by loopholes in existing company commitments.

Then, on 8 June, the coalition marked World Oceans Day by handing UK Prime Minister David Cameron a petition, signed by more than 300,000 people, calling on him to ban these harmful ingredients.

Speaking about Eustice’s statement, Fauna & Flora International’s Marine Plastics Projects Manager Daniel Steadman said, “We are really pleased to see positive signs that the UK government is taking this issue seriously, and we hope that the Minister’s statement will be followed soon by a formal announcement by Defra.”