UK ban on microbead cosmetic products expected to come into force in July 2018

It is expected that the UK’s ban on cosmetic products that contain plastic microbeads – such as toothpastes and face washes – will come into effect in 2018.

During a debate in the House of Commons on March 8th it was stated that ‘legislation is expected to come into force in October this year, that the ban on the manufacture of microbeads in cosmetics will apply from the beginning of 2018, and that the ban on sales is expected to apply from the end of June 2018.’
Dr Thérèse Coffey, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, confirmed:

“Our expectation is that we will ban the manufacture of microbeads from the start of 2018 and ban the sale of products containing them from July 2018. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) asked about imported products containing microbeads; the ban will cover such products. As I say, the sale of these products will be banned from July 2018.”

Dr Thérèse CoffeyParliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We’ve had a read over the entire debate, which provided an interesting yet worrying discussion on not only the impact of microbeads and microplastics on the environment, but plastic pollution as a whole.

We’ve summarised the debate and other microbead information into the following sections:

We’ve been following the microbead situation for a couple of years now and will continue to post about developments. Although it was in August 2016 that MPs first called for a ban on plastic microbeads, it was all the way back in 2014 that dental hygeinest Trish Walraven found microbeads embedded in pateints’ gums thanks to their inclusion in toothpastes like Crest.

See our article on toothpastes with and without microbeads for more information on the topic, and for a list of sites where you can check microbead content of other products.

Not only will we be pleased to see the ban come into effect from the point of view of public health and safety but also ​that of environmental protection.

Infographic (click to enlarge)

UK ban on microbead cosmetic products expected to come into force in July 2018 1

Key Takeaways From The Debate

  • The legislation for the ban is expected to come into force in October 2017
  • The expectation is that in the UK the manufacture of cosmetic products containing microbeads will be banned from the start of 2018
  • It is then expected that the sale of these cosmetic products will be banned from July 2018. The ban will also apply to imported products.
  • The ban will be UK-wide and while the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will need to introduce their own legislation, the Government will work with them to co-ordinate the roll-out.
  • The consultation on the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products closed a week before the debate took place. The consultation was opened after the Government announced its plan to ban cosmetic products containing microbeads in September 2016.
  • The consultation was broadened out to include evidence on the extent of the environmental impact of microbeads in products other than cosmetics
  • Although the debate’s main subject was the microbeads ban, plastic pollution in general was also discussed and several MPs raised good points around the issue. While microbeads are a big contributor to microplastic pollution, large plastic items are also a big contributor. They start off as large items, but over time break down to become microplastic pollution, at which stage, like those that start off as microplastics, they are harder to filter out of the water.
  • Within the debate some MPs also called for a wider-reaching ban on microplastics, not just those such as microbeads that are used in cosmetics. However, the legislation for this microbead ban will only apply to cosmetic products and will not apply, for example, to other products that contain microbeads such as household cleaning products.
  • The proposed ban will include other industrial hand-cleaning products, and there was discussion in the debate about cleaning products more generally. The UK Cleaning Products Industry Association has stated that none of the products made by the UK companies it represents contain microbeads. However, hand-cleaning products—things such as Swarfega, which is well-known around the country—will be included within the scope of this ban.
  • Ireland has also announced its own ban. The US ban that has been talked about is yet to come into force.

What Happens Next?

  • The government needs to notify other EU member states of its proposals under the technical standards directive, and all other countries around the world under the technical barriers to trade agreement, which is part of the World Trade Organisation.
  • In both of the above cases the period of notification is three months, and the Government plans to run these processes concurrently.
  • There will then be a short consultation on the actual statutory instrument that the Government intends to introduce.
  • The legislation will be laid before both Government Houses by the summer, with the aim of introducing the legislation in the autumn
  • The expectation is that the manufacturing of microbeads will then be banned from the start of 2018, and the sale of cosmetic products containing them will be banned from July 2018. 

Facts & Figures From The Debate

  • More than one third of the British public backed a ban on microbeads
  • One fifth of microbeads are used in the cosmetics and personal care industry, and some 680 tonnes of plastic microbeads are used in cosmetic products in the UK every year. This is an important industry, worth £10 billion in the UK in 2016, and we have the second largest cosmetics market in Europe.
  • Microplastics from the cosmetics and personal care industry are thought to be responsible for up to 4% of total plastics found in the ocean
  • We increased our production of plastics by 38% between 2004 and 2014. No one denies that plastics are extremely useful, but with their increased use has come, sadly, increased pollution of our seas.
  • During the debate, this report from the World Economic Forum was mentioned, which estimates that ‘by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight)’
  • It is the less obvious tiny particles—microbeads of less than 5 mm—that present a real danger to shellfish and fish, which often ingest them mistaking them for food. It is estimated that a total of 15 trillion to 51 trillion microplastic particles have accumulated in the oceans.
  • One study revealed that in 2009, microplastics were found in 36.5% of fish caught by trawlers in the English channel.
  • A plate of six oysters can contain up to 50 particles of plastic. More than 280 marine species have been found to have ingested microplastics, and the Environmental Audit Committee has said that much more research is needed on plastic pollution, because there is huge uncertainty about the ecological risk.
  • 8 billion plastic water bottles are used and thrown away every single year, and 30% of those are used by children during sport. Many of them end up not just on our streets, but floating in the sea, and they gradually break down to form microbeads.
  • Estimating the toxicity of microplastics is complex and the full dangers to human health are not fully quantified yet, but studies have revealed that these plastics are entering the food chain, although the full impact is hard to measure. Microplastics can release and adsorb toxic chemicals and may act as a vector for them, transferring contaminants to organisms that ingest microplastics…Government sources have stated that the chief scientific adviser will review the effects on human health in future.
  • It is estimated that 86 tonnes of microplastics are released into the environment each year in the UK from facial exfoliators alone
  • The Environmental Audit Committee estimates that about 680 tonnes of plastic beads are used in the UK every year
  • Every year, 8,600 tonnes of plastic from the cosmetics and personal care industry are poured into European waters alone
  • When items such as plastic bottles enter the water, they eventually break down into ever smaller pieces and become microplastics in themselves. They cause damage in exactly the same way as microbeads do—they just do not start out as tiny items in the first place.
  • About 8 million tonnes of plastic enter oceans every year, which break down into smaller and smaller pieces causing real harm to marine life and ecosystems.
  • One recent study showed that 90% of birds have plastics in their stomachs. On, Clean Water Action documented the case of a California grey whale that had washed up dead; its stomach contained a pair of pants, a golf ball, more than 20 bags, small towels, duct tape and surgical gloves. Just recently, extraordinary levels of toxic pollutants—industrial chemicals that were banned in the 1970s—were found in the remotest place on the planet: the 10 km deep Mariana trench in the Pacific ocean.
  • It can be quite difficult to work out whether a product contains microbeads because, first, companies are not obliged to disclose what products contain, and secondly, one needs a magnifying glass to read and a chemistry textbook to understand the complicated terminology.
  • Only a third of plastic packaging used in consumer products is recycled in the UK. The rest is either landfilled or incinerated or, worse still, it is never collected and ends up clogging up our sewers and polluting our marine and land ecosystems where it can ​remain for literally hundreds of years
  • In 2014 annual global plastic production stood at 311 million tonnes. Shockingly, more than 40% of it was for single-use packing
  • Of the 7 million coffee cups thrown away each day, only 1% are recycled through normal collection systems.
  • Some companies have voluntarily stopped using microbeads, or indeed never used them in the first place—companies such as Ecover, family-run Cornish company Spiezia, Liz Earle and Neal’s Yard.
  • Unilever has announced plans to make all its plastic packaging recyclable by 2025
  • Some companies, such as Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have their own brands of cosmetics, which do not contain microplastics or microbeads.
  • Some companies that have already taken voluntary action to take microbeads out of rinse-off products: Colgate-Palmolive, which phased them out all the way back in 2014; Unilever and Boots, which phased them out in 2015; and the L’Oréal group, which is currently phasing them out.

Timeline of the UK Microbead Ban

  • August 2016: UK MPs call for a ban on microbeads in cosmetic products
  • September 2016: the Government announces an intention to ban the manufacture and  sale of cosmetics and personal care products containing microbeads and opened a consultation
  • February 2017: Consultation into microbead ban closes and Government begins assessing responses.
  • March 2017: Parliamentary debate discussing microbead ban takes place
  •  1 October 2017 [proposed]: Legislation for ban expected to come into force
  • Beginning of 2018 [proposed]: The manufacture of cosmetic products containing microbeads will be  banned
  • July 2018 [proposed]: The sale of cosmetic products and industrial hand-cleaning products containing microbeads – both those manufactured within the UK and imported from overseas –  will be banned

About Jon Love

Jon is a leading voice on electric toothbrushes and has been quoted by mainstream media publications for his opinions and expertise.

Having handled & tested hundreds of products there really is very little he does not know about them.

Passionate about business and helping others, Jon has been involved in various online enterprises since the early 2000s.

After spending 12 years in consumer technology, it was in 2014 that he focused his attention on dental health, having experienced first-hand the challenge of choosing a new toothbrush.

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