The United Kingdom just became the newest country to take a colossal step towards helping to reduce the amount of plastic that enters our oceans. On January 9th, 2018, the U.K. officially declared a ban on the manufacture of plastic microbeads that are currently used in many cosmetic products such as face scrubs and skin lotions. This ban presages a ban on the sales of any products containing microbeads which will take effect in July. This ban follows the law that Former President Barack Obama signed in 2015, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, banning plastic microbeads in the United States.
A microbead is defined as a solid plastic particle of less than one millimeter in their largest dimension and are used especially in cleansing products as exfoliating agents. Unfortunately, millions of these plastic microbeads are washed down the drain every year around the world. "Microbeads are entirely unnecessary when there are so many natural alternatives available, and I am delighted that from today cosmetics manufacturers will no longer be able to add this harmful plastic to their rinse-off products," British Environmental Minister Thérèse Coffey said in a statement on Tuesday.
The United Kingdom, United States and Canada along with several other countries have banned the manufacture and use of plastic microbeads in cosmetic products, with Ireland having proposed a ban on both the manufacture and sale of any product containing microbeads before the end of 2018. However, there are still many places where this ban is not yet in place.
Some ways you can help to reduce the amount of plastic that enters our oceans and put an end to plastic microbeads in general are:
1. Refuse to buy face cleansers with microbeads in it.
Several large scale companies have boasted about the exfoliating powers and benefits that plastic microbeads have in cosmetic products but they fail to mention the environmental risk these tiny plastic particles create. However, as bans on these microbeads become more and more common, these companies have began to pledge to voluntarily phase out these beads from their products.
2. Refuse to buy body scrubs with microbeads
Although they may make your skin smooth, the harmful effect of using body scrubs with microbeads in it can be catastrophic. According to a report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, as many as 100,000 plastic microbeads can be flushed down the drain in a single shower. Because these particles are so small in size, most wastewater treatment plants cannot successfully filter out these plastic which means they unfortunately make their way into the ocean. From here, fish often ingest these microbeads and the start of a potentially toxic substance is introduced into the marine food chain.
Unfortunately this ban does not cover other products using plastic microbeads such as paints, but we welcome these small steps towards one day being a world where we do not depend on plastic. With this ban, we hope that more countries will join the movement in becoming a part of the solution, and not the problem.
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Our latest shoreline cleanup at Matheson Hammock proved just how much trash can become trapped in mangroves habitats. With hundreds of participants at the cleanup, it is no wonder we collected over 5,000 pounds of trash and recyclables!