On the day the UK government’s microbeads consultation closes, businesses have joined environmental campaigners in calling for a comprehensive ban on microbeads. Campaigners have warned that the current proposals would see the ban limited to microplastic ingredients of 5mm or less in ‘rinse off’ personal care and cosmetic products, while other products containing microplastics could continue to be sold.

Campaigners from the Microbeads Coalition said it was ‘make or break time for the microbeads ban’, as businesses including health and beauty brand Neal’s Yard Remedies, NCH Europe, which produces industrial cleaning products, and Anglian Water, which is leading the national campaign on unflushables, called on the government to implement a complete ban on microplastic ingredients.

The coalition, which includes the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK, and the Marine Conservation Society, is calling for the government to follow the guidelines below, which were developed by Fauna & Flora International and recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee:

  • Any definition of ‘microbeads’ must include all solid water insoluble plastic ingredients smaller than 5mm used for any purpose (not just for exfoliation). There should be no lower size limit included in the definition;
  • The legislation should cover all products that are washed down the drain or discharged into the aquatic environment. This includes a wide range of cosmetic and personal care products as well as industrial cleaning products, make-up, and other product categories;
  • Legislation should not allow so-called ‘biodegradable’ plastics to be used as alternatives, as these materials do not degrade in the marine environment and therefore are not a solution to the problem;
  • There should be a clear and prompt timeline for phasing out these ingredients, and a date after which products containing microplastics must not be sold. This should be within two years of the ban.

The Microbeads Coalition said, “It’s make or break time for the microbeads ban, which must be expanded from the government’s current proposals to ensure that it covers any products containing microplastic ingredients that are likely to enter our seas. It makes no sense for the government to apply this ban to one industry, whilst leaving others to pollute our oceans with these tiny plastics.”

Business perspectives

Today the coalition NGOs have been joined by companies from a range of industries – from the water, beauty, and maintenance sectors – to call for a fully comprehensive ban that will protect the marine environment and provide a level playing field for businesses and increase buying confidence for consumers and retailers alike.

Helen Cooper, Managing Director of natural health and beauty company Neal’s Yard Remedies, said:
“Neal’s Yard Remedies has never used microplastic ingredients in any of its products, from face scrubs to deodorants to lipsticks, and we have found many of our customers are reassured that they are not contributing to the growing problem of ocean microplastic pollution when using our products. A comprehensive microbeads ban that goes beyond just ‘rinse off’ cosmetics is something we have been actively campaigning for, and we believe that microplastic ingredients should never be used in any products that are washed down the drain.”

Bernard Daymon, CEO of global water, energy and maintenance solutions provider NCH Europe said:
“While I welcome the news that the UK government is planning to ban plastic microbeads in cosmetic products, this is only a small step to solving the overall problem of microbeads in our oceans.

“It is not just cosmetic products that contain microbeads. Many industrial sites use abrasive hand cleaners that also contain them and so manufacturers of these products must find natural alternatives. For example, using a natural olive-stone scrub instead of plastic microbeads will make a significant difference. NCH Europe has started to phase out such unnecessary ingredients in its industrial products, but more manufacturers must also make the change.

“A cross-industry effort to eliminate plastic microbeads is vital to realise the UK government’s vision of clean and healthy oceans. Putting such a ban in place that goes beyond cosmetics would truly establish the UK as a progressive and pioneering country in the post-Brexit world.”

Anglian Water‘s Rachel Dyson, who is leading the national campaign on unflushables and is chair of the Sewer Misuse Groups for Water UK and 21st Century Drainage Programme said:
“The emerging issue and increasing awareness of the problems caused by microplastics in natural environments is a concern to us all. The Anglian Water region is one of the most ecologically diverse in the UK, containing internationally important wetland habitats and a quarter of England’s best bathing waters. The benefits of reducing the number of pollutions in the natural water environment, including from plastics, are clear to see and we welcome all efforts to achieve this.”

For more information about the guidelines developed by Fauna & Flora International, you can read our guidance document on preventing microplastic pollution from consumer and industrial products.