Plastic microbeads found in products like shower gel and toothpaste should be banned as part of a wider effort to curb marine pollution caused by microplastics, according to a select committee.
Although many cosmetics companies have made voluntary commitments to stop using microbeads by 2020, MPs believe their use should be made illegal by the end of next year to minimise environmental damage.
A report by the environmental audit committee said this would ‘have advantages for consumers and the industry in terms of consistency, universality and confidence’.
If an international ban is not possible, the committee said national legislation should be in place by 2017.
Up to 219,000 tonnes of microplastics enter the marine environment across Europe per year – including microbeads, which are often added to toiletries to exfoliate the skin.
The report described microplastics as ‘potentially more environmentally damaging than larger pieces of plastic because it is more likely to be eaten by wildlife and have a greater surface area with which to transfer chemicals to and from the marine environment’.
The committee’s inquiry found companies were failing to label products containing microbeads.
Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said: ‘Trillions of tiny pieces of plastic are accumulating in the world’s oceans, lakes and estuaries, harming marine life and entering the food chain. The microbeads in scrubs, shower gels and toothpastes are an avoidable part of this plastic pollution problem. A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.
‘Cosmetic companies’ voluntary approach to phasing out plastic microbeads simply won’t wash. We need a full legal ban, preferably at an international level, as pollution does not respect borders. If this isn’t possible after our vote to leave the EU, then the government should introduce a national ban.
‘The best way to reduce this pollution is to prevent plastic being flushed into the sea in the first place.’
However, cosmetic products account for no more than 4.1% of the total microplastics entering the marine environment and microbeads are therefore only one part of the problem, said the committee.
It called for greater effort to capture microplastics, for example through enhanced washing machine filtration systems and improved waste and water sewage treatment processes.
Photo by Oregon State University