UK May Ban Plastic Microbeads

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The UK government has announced that it will consider a unilateral ban on plastic microbeads in shower gels and facial scrubs if the EU doesn’t ban their use.

A number of countries, including the United States, have already banned microbeads in cosmetics because of their detrimental effect on the marine life.

The Environment Minister Rory Stewart told the Commons on Thursday,

“If we cannot get a common position out of the European Union, we are open to the possibility of the UK acting unilaterally.”

The MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee are due to start hearings on microplastics on Monday.

The microbeads are used in products in shower gels and other beauty products as they aid in the exfoliation of the skin.

However, environmentalists have criticized their use as they are swelling plastic debris in the ocean.

However, scientists say that a ban on the tiny beads is not a solution to plastic pollution, even though it is an easy place to start.

The move was applauded by Greenpeace, which has raised protests against the use of plastic.

“This is reflective of the opinion of hundreds of thousands of people across the country,” said the organisation’s oceans campaigner Louise Edge.

“But any legislation would need to go further than that brought in by the Obama administration in the US, which only covers certain types of microbeads.”

Microbeads Can Be Fatal To Marine Life

The tiny size of the microbeads allows them to slip through the water treatment works and enter the ocean, where fish and other creatures ingest them. The beads get stuck in the stomachs of the sea creatures and can be fatal when ingested in large quantities.

The UK government had earlier asked firms to stop using microbeads by phasing them out on a voluntary basis.

Several firms were receptive of the idea and the process is already underway at Unilever, while L’Oreal says it will follow by next year.

Prof Richard Thompson from Plymouth University told the committee that one third of 504 fish tested from the English Channel had plastic in their digestive tract.

The average plastic in the digestive tract of the fish was less than two pieces of microplastic.

He added that seabirds have been shown to ingest larger quantities. Also, microplastics have also been found to adversely affect worms that are placed at the bottom of the food chain.

Dr Erik Sebille from Imperial College London said microbeads constitute a very small part of the plastics in use. Therefore, they probably make just a small contribution to the total plastic waste in the ocean.

That could be interpreted to mean that banning microbeads would not have a big impact on the problem of plastic waste in the oceans.

But Dr Sebille said,

“A ban is about taking action to tackle ocean plastic pollution at its source – and this is the right way to address the problem.”

Both the academicians stressed that an understanding of the affect of ocean plastics on marine life was still in its nascent stage.