On the 9th January 2018, the use of microbeads in cosmetics and skincare was banned in the UK. The new law means that these products can no longer be manufactured, and they will be barred from sale form July this year. But what are microbeads, and why are they being banned?
You might have seen these tiny balls of plastic in exfoliating treatments like lip, face and body scrubs and even in some toothpastes. They’re used to help you rub off that dry top layer of skin to expose the softer layers beneath and make your skin look more radiant and youthful. The microbeads have gained popularity as an ingredient for these kinds of treatments over the last few years as a cost-effective alternative to natural exfoliants like sand, coffee, seeds, salt, sugar and crushed fruit stones.
Once used on the skin, these beads get washed down the drain and into the waterways.
Unfortunately, unlike their natural alternatives, microbeads are choking marine life. An international study of marine wildlife and seascapes suggest there are five trillion pieces of plastic currently floating around on our seas and oceans, even in some of the deepest parts visited by humans. While large pieces can cause trapping and choking hazards to sea creatures, the tiny pieces form cosmetics can easily be ingested and become blockages in the body systems of the animals who unwittingly swallow them.
The total scale of the plastic pollution is estimated to weigh in at 268,940 tonnes. While much of this comes from littering and the fishing, industrial waste is also a huge problem.
The answer may lie in how easy it is to deal with the aftermath. While technology is constantly coming up with new ways of skimming and filtering our waters to remove large plastic pieces, getting rid of those harmful microplastics is far more difficult.
So, how can the average person do their bit to preserve our oceans? Well, the 5p bag charge has seen a colossal reduction in their usage, and this should help with the overall reduction of these bags that make their way into the sea. Declining to use plastic bags and investing in sturdy repeat-usage bags can help. Similarly, recycling as much of your household waste as possible can reduce the mount of rubbish that goes to landfill, which in turn can stop litter ending up in the oceans. And while microbeads won’t be available in the shops from this summer, you could also choose to stop using them sooner and try alternatives with natural exfoliants.