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Is the end in sight for microbeads?

  • United Kingdom
  • Environment
  • Real estate


As many in the retail sector will be aware back in September 2016 the UK government announced plans to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing “microbeads”. This followed an extensive campaign by environmentalists and action by a number of other countries including the USA. Interestingly this is UK only legislation to protect the marine environment which was announced by a post Brexit UK government.

Microbeads are intentionally added to a number of products including face scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels. However, these pieces of plastic are too small to be filtered out in sewage treatment systems and often end up in the sea where they can cause harm to aquatic life and potentially enter the food chain.

In December 2016 the government launched a public consultation seeking views on the proposed ban.

For many environmentalists the proposed ban does not go far enough, since microbeads are contained in a number of other household and industrial cleaning products. Microbeads from personal care products make up a very small proportion of the microbeads entering the marine environment. Accordingly a ban which is restricted to personal care products will only have a small impact on the marine environment.

It is therefore not surprising that the government has taken this opportunity to gather evidence on the extent of the environmental impacts of microbeads found in other products to inform future UK actions to protect the marine environment. It appears the government is intending to use the information generated to develop targeted, proportional measures to address other sources of marine pollution.

The consultation is open until 28 February 2017

In England it is anticipated the ban in relation to the manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products will come into play on 1 January 2018 with a ban on sale expected from 30 June 2018. A similar timescale is likely to apply in Scotland and Wales.

Retailers need to be speaking to suppliers of personal care products to ensure they will be in a position to comply. Furthermore retailers should monitor the consultation responses given it appears likely that at some stage the ban may also be extended to other “down the drain” products.