Wales votes to ban microbeads

Wales votes to ban microbeads
Following a vote by the Welsh Assembly, plastic microbeads will be banned in personal care products in Wales.

Assembly Members voted the proposal through on Tuesday (19 June), a decision which will see a ban on both the manufacture and the sale of products containing microbeads in force by 30 June.

The products covered by the ban are ‘rinse-off personal care products’ such as face washes, body scrubs, toothpastes and other such items that result in product washing down the drain. The tiny pieces of plastic (less than five millimetres in diameter) cannot be captured by sewage treatment systems, meaning they can end up polluting the rivers and oceans, where they find their way into the food chain after being eaten by marine wildlife.

“Microbeads in rinse-off products are unnecessary and harmful to sea life,” stated Welsh Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn. “A ban will reduce pollutants from entering our seas and is an important step to safeguarding our marine environment.

“This ban is part of a range of measures here in Wales to reduce waste, tackle plastic pollution and increase recycling… 2018 is Wales’ Year Of The Sea and we’re taking action to tackle plastic pollution, including signing up to the UN Clean Seas pledge earlier this month. We’re also developing water refill points at key communities along our Wales Coast Path, helping reduce further the amount of plastic entering our seas.”

Read more: Manchester river has worst microplastics pollution in the world

The decision by the Welsh Assembly to ban microbeads in certain products will bring the country into line with England and Scotland, which banned the sale of rinse-off products containing microbeads on Tuesday following a manufacturing ban in January. The timescale for the introduction of the measures in England and Scotland has been much longer, allowing for shops to adjust or sell off existing stock, whereas Welsh retailers will have only 10 days to make sure the changes are met. A ban is also expected to be in force in Northern Ireland by the end of 2018.

Global measures

Wales votes to ban microbeads
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Thegreenj
Microbeads have increasingly been subject to restrictions across the world as evidence of the damage they cause to the natural environment comes to light; the US Government passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015, while Italy, New Zealand, Taiwan and Canada have since followed suit, but the UK ban was described by Dr Sue Kinsey, Senior Pollution Policy Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, as “the strongest and most comprehensive ban to be enacted in the world”.

Retailers and manufacturers have also been taking voluntary steps to find alternatives to plastic microbeads; a survey by CTPA (the UK cosmetics trade association) reveals that, since a recommendation was issued by Cosmetics Europe in 2015, the use of plastic microbeads has fallen by 70 per cent, even before the UK ban. Companies, including the biggest global cosmetic groups like Procter & Gamble and Unilever, are replacing plastic beads with biodegradable alternatives derived from waxes, starches and ground nutshells.

Recent proposals to cut plastic pollution in the UK extend beyond microbeads to include potential bans on plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds, proposals which were echoed by the European Commission in May when it announced its draft Single-Use Plastics Directive. In addition, focus is turning to a less publicised but equally damaging source of microplastics in the environment: microfibres from synthetic fabrics, released into the water system on washing, apparently cause 16 times more plastic pollution than microbeads.

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