UK Closer To Banning Cosmetic Microbeads That Clog Up Its Seas
1 July 2016
It’s a plastic plague. More than a third of fish in the English Channel are now contaminated with microscopic plastic debris from exfoliating skin scrubs, synthetic fabrics and other everyday products.
Between 16 and 86 tonnes of plastic microbeads from facial exfoliants are washed down UK drains every year, according to a report published today by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
These particles are too tiny to be filtered out using waste-water treatment processes and end up being ingested by fish and other marine organisms. A separate study published in Science on Thursday shows that European perch experience impaired reproduction and growth when exposed to microplastic particles at levels found in the environment.
A parliamentary hearing on Wednesday will consider whether the UK should follow the lead of the US by banning plastic microbeads in personal care products.
“Cosmetic companies need to clean up their act,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, ahead of the hearing. “If they refuse to act, the Environmental Audit Committee will consider calling for a full ban on microbeads.”
Some 25 UK companies have already phased out plastic microbeads or flagged their intention to do so, with apricot kernels, sand and ground-up coconut being used as more eco-friendly alternatives.
Drop in the ocean
Up to 50 trillion microplastic particles are currently floating on the surface of the world’s oceans, but only a small proportion of these come from cosmetics, says Erik van Sebille at Imperial College London.
Plastic fibres also flake off synthetic clothes when they are washed, and larger pieces of plastic – such as takeaway containers and water bottles – can gradually disintegrate into microscopic fragments.
“Banning microbeads is the low-hanging fruit,” says van Sebille. “What will we do about the rest of the plastic?”
No technology exists to extract microplastics from oceans, but a crucial step is to remove larger plastic items before they break down, he says. In one of the largest plastic-removal projects – The Ocean Cleanup – floating networks of barriers are being developed that can trap plastic debris.
“But I would say cleaning up beaches [before the plastic gets into the water] is even more important,” says van Sebille. And, he adds, it’s much easier to pick up plastic on a beach than from the open ocean.
Source : newscientist.com