Plastic microbeads can no longer be used in cosmetics and personal care products in the UK, after a long-promised ban came into effect on Tuesday. The ban initially bars the manufacture of such products and a ban on sales will follow in July.
Thousands of tonnes of plastic microbeads from products such as exfoliating face scrubs and toothpastes wash into the sea every year, where they harm wildlife and can ultimately be eaten by people. The UK government firstpledged to ban plastic microbeads in September 2016, following a US ban in 2015.
The huge problem of plastic pollution choking the oceans has gained a high profile with recent revelations that there are fivetrillion pieces of plasticfloating in the world’s seas and that the debris has reached the mostremote partsof theoceans, Microbeads are a small but significant part of this which campaigners argued was the easiest to prevent.
“The world’s oceans are some of our most valuable natural assets and I am determined we act now to tackle the plastic that devastates our precious marine life,” said environment minister Thérèse Coffey. “Now we have reached this important milestone, we will explore how we can build on our world-leading ban and tackle other forms of plastic waste.”
Pressure is now mounting for action on plastic bottles – amillion are bought every minutearound the world and they make up a third of the plastic litter in the seas. In December, the UK’s environmental audit committee (EAC) ofMPs called for a deposit return scheme, which has successfully increased recycling rates in other countries.
On Sunday, the prime minister,Theresa May tweeted: “In 2015 we introduced the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags, we now see 9bn fewer bags being used. It’s making a real difference. We want to do the same with single use plastics. Nobody who watched #BluePlanet2 will doubt the need for us to do something - and we will.”
Political observers say the moves are intended to woo younger voters and the prime minister is expected to give a speech on the environment later this week. However, on the major policy issue of the illegal levels of air pollution in most urban areas that cause many thousands of premature deaths, the government’s action has been condemned as“woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors.