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‘Make or break' time for microbeads ban, say campaigners

Water companies and environmental campaigners have joined forces to call for a comprehensive ban on microbeads in consumer products, amid warnings that the current government proposals do not go far enough.

Proposals contained in the Government’s consultation on the issue, which closed yesterday, would see the ban limited to microplastic ingredients of 5mm or less in ‘rinse off’ personal care and cosmetic products. However, 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’, and called on the Government to implement a complete ban on microplastic ingredients.

The campaign group includes businesses such as health and beauty brand Neal’s Yard Remedies; NCH Europe, which produces industrial cleaning products; Anglian Water, who are leading the national campaign on unflushables; the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK, and the Marine Conservation Society.

It is calling for the adoption of alternative guidelines developed by Fauna & Flora International, and recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee, which would include all solid water insoluble plastic ingredients smaller than 5mm used for any purpose (not just for exfoliation) with no lower size limit. The legislation should cover all products that are washed down the drain or discharged into the aquatic environment. Furthermore, the campaigners say that so-called ‘biodegradable’ plastics should not be allowed to be used as alternatives, as these materials do not degrade in the marine environment. The group also want a clear and prompt timeline for phasing out the ingredients, and a date, within two years of the ban, after which products containing microplastics must not be sold.

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.”

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.”

Bernard Daymon, chief executive officer 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.”

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: water pollution , government , consultation

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