The U.K. Bans Microbeads
If you’ve ever exfoliated your skin or brushed your teeth with toothpaste, you’ve probably used a microbead. Microbeads are the tiny plastic spheres found in many exfoliating facial scrubs, shower gels, toothpastes and other rinse-off skincare products on the market. They are in the class of microplastics, pieces of plastic less than five millimeters, or 0.2-inches, long. Found in chewing gum, glitter, industrial cleaning products, synthetic clothing fibers and even tires, microplastics are everywhere, and that’s a big problem for the world’s oceans.
Because they’re so small, microbeads cannot be filtered out by wastewater treatment plants and end up in the watershed. From there, they are inadvertently eaten by fish and other marine animals—the very fish and marine animals that are an important part of the food chain. This means humans ultimately end up eating the very plastic they were using to wash their faces. This can cause hormone disruptions and cancer. In response to health concerns, the U.K. government pledged to ban the manufacturing of cosmetic products containing microbeads in 2016. The ban just took effect on January 8, 2018 and joins similar bans enacted by the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand.
While this move is certainly a positive for the world’s ocean ecosystems and our own food chain, plastic in its many forms remains a problem for the environment, for ocean animals, and for our own health. Some municipalities are looking to tax or ban plastic grocery bags or plastic-coated cups, and leaders are calling for a reduction in the use of bottled water packaged in plastic.