No more microbeads: After consultation, the UK government confirms it will ban microbeads from January

Lucy White
Microbead ban
Plastic microbeads were found to be harmful to marine life (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It might be time for a change in cosmetics products, as the government has confirmed microbeads will be banned next year.

The government launched a consultation last December into getting rid of the tiny plastic particles, often used in exfoliating body scrubs and household products, as research showed they were harming marine life.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) today published an outcome of that consultation, confirming it would ban the manufacture of microbeads from the beginning of January and stop the sale of such products from the end of June 2018.

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“Enforcement in England will be carried out through a range of sanctions including variable monetary penalties, compliance notices, stop notices and enforcement undertakings,” said Defra's response.

“The UK aims for this to be the first generation since the industrial revolution to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited it.”

Defra added that Trading Standards would review compliance and carry out enforcement of the microbead ban in England.

Respondents to the consultation included cosmetics brands such as Chanel, manufacturers such as GlaxoSmithKline, and several local authorities and action groups.

Some of the 431 respondents raised concern over the imminence of the ban, but Defra refused to be swayed.

Other respondents asked for the ban – which currently covers rinse-off products containing microbeads – to be extended to cover all products which result in microbeads being washed down the drain, including “leave-on” makeup and sunscreen.

However the government did not consider it “appropriate” to extend the ban, saying there is not insufficient evidence as to whether products outside of the “rinse-off” category cause harm.

It also refused to exempt biodegradable products, pointing out that microbeads which might biodegrade under outdoor conditions may not at the bottom of the ocean.

Defra said it was working with the Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee to review how the ban might be extended in the future.

"The UK government has just proposed the strongest ban on microbeads in the world to date. This is great news for our environment and a positive sign of Britain's global leadership on ocean plastics," said Louisa Casson, Greenpeace UK's oceans campaigner.

"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."

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