Microbead ban starts today

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 19 June 2018

Following a ban on the manufacture of personal products, including shower gels, face scrubs and toothpastes, containing microbeads in January, from today all such items will be banned from sale in England and Scotland.

microbead fingerprint
© MPCA

We can and must act now to prevent further environmental harm to our oceans, wildlife, coastlines and potentially to human health.

Dr Sue Kinsey,
MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer

Retailers across England and Scotland can no longer sell rinse-off cosmetics and personal care products that contain the tiny pieces of plastic often added to give exfoliating or deep-clean powers.

The government says it’s the final step in its world-leading efforts to prevent these harmful pieces of plastic entering the marine environment.

But MCS says that although the ban on the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing microbeads is fantastic news, it’s only half the story. It says the ban must be now extended to all products that contain these tiny yet incredibly harmful pieces of plastic – and quickly.

“We are delighted that this robust microbead ban has come into force,” says Dr Sue Kinsey, Senior Pollution Policy Officer at 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.

“We believe that this signals a real commitment on the part of this government to clean up our seas and beaches and we look forward to seeing further actions to combat plastic waste. The next step has to be to extend the scope of the ban to more products such as suncreams, make-ups and general cleaning products that are used every single day.

“Over 100,000 people have taken part in the recent consultation on a plastic tax. The public clearly understand how important it is we turn the tide on plastic now. It’s time the UK government acknowledged the same and took further ground-breaking steps forward.”

“We welcome the ban on the sale and manufacture of plastic microbeads in rinse-off products that the Scottish Parliament’s environment committee has approved today,” Calum Duncan, MCS Head of Conservation in Soctland. “The seriousness of the potential impact on the ocean is recognised in that a breach of the new Scottish regulations can mean a fine of up to £5,000 or up to two years imprisonment. I am sure this will not need to be invoked, but it is welcome that the potential threat to our seas is recognised now with this legislation. We hope that soon the regulations can extend to other cosmetic products such as suncreams and make-up, and not just ‘rinse-off’ products”.

Just one shower alone is thought to send 100,000 microbeads down the drain and into the ocean, causing serious harm to marine life. The government’s ban will now prevent billions of microbeads ending up in the ocean every year.

Two years ago the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee said increasing amounts of damage were being done to marine life as a result of plastic accumulating in our oceans leading to potential harm to human health.

Last year scientists at Ghent University in Belgium calculated that shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year and earlier this year, record levels of microplastics were found in Arctic sea ice. Up to 12,000 of the tiny plastic particles were discovered per litre of sea ice in samples taken from the Arctic Ocean in 2014 and 2015.

Dr Kinsey said that research revealed the problems of microplastics in our oceans are even more far reaching than previously realised.

“A particular concern, is the fact that much of that microplastic load will be released as ice melts. This highlights the absolute importance of stopping the flow of plastics to our oceans as soon as possible.

“We can and must act now to prevent further environmental harm to our oceans, wildlife, coastlines and potentially to human health.”

The Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (Wales) Regulations 2018 has been presented to the National Assembly for Wales in Plenary. It was debated by AM’s, approve the legislation and will come into force on June 30th.

Actions you can take

  1. Learn about Deposit Return Systems
  2. Join a beach clean
  3. Browse Scotland's Marine Atlas
  4. NGO microbead briefing paper
  5. Read our microbead ban position statement
  6. Find out more about nurdles
  7. Join the Plastic Challenge
  8. Find out more about Scottish Wildlife

Did you know?…

Every day millions of microplastics enter the sea from personal care products such as scrubs and toothpastes

Over time, one plastic bottle bobbing along in the ocean can break down in to hundreds of tiny plastic pieces

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’