19 June 2018

From 19 June 2018, retailers in England and Scotland will no longer be able to sell rinse-off cosmetic and personal care products such as face scrubs, toothpaste, soaps and shower gels, which contain solid plastic microbeads.  Microbeads were used in these kinds of products to help clean the skin by exfoliation and to remove stains and plaque from teeth.

The announcement from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs follows a ban from January 2018 on the manufacture of products containing microbeads.

As Dr Chris Flower from the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) points out, “The UK cosmetics industry took voluntary steps to remove plastic microbeads from products as part of a Europe-wide initiative launched in 2015.   Recent survey results showed that Europe wide voluntary action has produced a 97% reduction in their use already. Although the legislation in the UK to create a level playing field was welcome, the benefit to the marine environment from such a ban is tiny since microbeads represented a tiny fraction of the problem of plastic pollution. We’re therefore pleased to see that in today’s announcement the government is focussing on tackling other sources of plastic pollution to protect the marine environment.  Most sources of microplastic litter are from larger pieces of plastic debris, such as plastic packaging, car tyres or synthetic fabrics such as polyester, which will eventually break down into tiny pieces and do not dissolve in water.” 

Companies that previously used plastic microbeads have reformulated or replaced them with alternatives such as beeswax, rice bran wax, starches made from corn, tapioca, seaweed, silica, clay and other natural products.  This means that the majority of UK cosmetic manufacturers were already prepared for the ban on the manufacture of products containing plastic microbeads and for the ban this week on their sale.