Government to ban microbeads in toiletries to tackle threat to marine life

An exfoliating daily wash containing micro-beads
An exfoliating daily wash containing micro-beads

Tiny plastic pieces known as "microbeads" will be banned from cosmetics and toiletries, as part of efforts to stop plastic waste entering the oceans, the Government has said.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed legislation would be introduced this year to ban the sale and manufacture of microbeads in products ranging from toothpastes to shower gels.

It comes as part of efforts to tackle the eight million tonnes of plastic that makes its way into oceans each year, from large bits of rubbish to tiny fragments, which pose a threat to fish, marine mammals and seabirds.

The Government will also look at ways of reducing the amount of plastic, in particular single-use soft drinks bottles, entering the seas, and improve incentives for reducing waste and litter, Mr Gove said.

The latest move to clean up plastic waste follows the introduction of a 5p plastic carrier bag charge for major retailers in England, following the example of the devolved administrations, to reduce the blight of plastic bags ending up in the countryside or seas.

New figures show that more than nine billion fewer plastic bags have been distributed since the charge came in - a reduction of 83% - with £95 million raised from the charge which has been donated to good causes.

Mr Gove said: "Eight million tonnes of plastic are discarded into the world's oceans each year, putting marine wildlife under serious threat.

"Last year the Government launched a consultation on banning microbeads in personal care products, which have such a devastating effect on marine life.

"We are responding to that consultation today and we will introduce legislation to implement that ban later this year.

"But there is more we can do to protect our oceans, so we will explore new methods of reducing the amount of plastic - in particular plastic bottles - entering our seas, improve incentives for reducing waste and litter, and review the penalties available to deal with polluters - all part of a renewed strategy on waste and resources that looks ahead to opportunities outside the EU."

Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner Louisa Casson said the ban represented the strongest action on microbeads in the world.

"This is great news for our environment and a positive sign of Britain's global leadership on ocean plastics.

"It's crucial that ministers have left the door open to broadening the ban in future.

"To achieve a fully comprehensive ban covering all products that go down the drain, we need companies to be much more transparent about when their products contain harmful microbeads."

She added: "Now that ministers have acknowledged the broader need to end ocean plastics, they should take swift action to tackle the mountain of single-use plastic bottles threatening our oceans by introducing a deposit return scheme."

WWF chief executive Tanya Steele said: "Microbeads are one of the most pervasive forms of marine pollution and prevention at source is far more effective than clean-up at sea.

"The ban needs to be as extensive as possible, to cover all products: there must be no loopholes or exemptions. Ocean creatures don't distinguish between different cosmetics."