The UK Microbead Ban, what is it, why should I care, and what do you want me to do about it?!
A micro victory in the fight against plastic pollution
The Microbead Ban is in force in the UK! Hurrah! We’ve only been waiting since September 2016, but the ban is a revolutionary move that will hopefully lead to stricter controls on all microplastics in the products we use. The UK is following a precedent led by the US and Canada (where microbeads are already banned) to try and eliminate these scourges of the earth.
What are microbeads?
Where have you been for the last two years!? Microbeads have been a big topic, the campaign to ban them had a lot of press coverage and was obviously successful. For those missing presumed lost for all that time, without access to any sources of news, microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic added to lots of personal care products. They are defined as water-insoluble plastics with any dimension smaller than 5 mm. They add just a little bit of abrasion, keeping you squeaky clean and raw enough to make you want to use more. Microbeads have been added by manufacturers to facial scrubs, toothpaste, shower gels, etc*. Products which we wash down the drain.
*Basically, anything you use to make you seem more hygienically acceptable to others, standards may vary.
Upon going down the drain, waste water from our homes is transported to a waste water treatment facility, where it is treated and returned to rivers or the sea. Microbeads are too small to be filtered out in any way during treatment, so they end up in rivers and oceans. This has led to lots of microplastic pollution. This microplastic pollution is harmful in myriad ways. Microplastics do not degrade, leaving them floating forever in a dwindling sea of fish. Dwindling because microplastics are eaten by animals, which die because they can’t eat anything else with a stomach full of plastic. Eventually, those microplastics that we washed our face with make their way up the food chain to, you guessed it, us. ‘What goes around comes around’ is not just a saying in this case. Clean eating indeed. Oh, and don’t forget the toxins that plastics leach, microplastics do that too. Even the government has admitted microplastics are bad, so they must be terrible.
Further proof that microplastics are an environmental disaster can be found here at The Plastic Soup Foundation.
What does the ban cover?
The ban that came into force today, limits further manufacture of products containing microbeads. Any product containing microbeads can, however, still be sold until July. July! Watch what you are buying until then. (That’s my watered-down advice, my 100% concentrate guidance would be to avoid products packaged in plastic entirely and to only use brands which are transparent about their ingredients list.)
Thankfully, the ban also covers degradable and biodegradable plastic microbeads, which although they do break down, have lots of scope to cause havoc before they eventually disappear.
The microbead saga is an odd one to begin with… Did any of us actually ask for plastic in our toiletries, cosmetics etc? This wasn’t a consumer demand, but pure marketing rubbish that has led to the mess we find ourselves in when it comes to microplastic pollution. We didn’t ask for it. There are plenty of natural alternatives to plastic microbeads, things like salt, sugar, walnut husks and oats (to name a few) that can give you that rush of exfoliation without having to resort to sandpaper. Plastic was probably just cheaper to add and presented lots of handy marketing opportunities for the brands making these products. Exfoliation, however, does not have to come at the cost of our ecological wellbeing. But hey, it happened. Now it’s over…or is it?
That’s it then, crisis averted?
The microbead ban, whilst worth celebrating, is not the final battle. We can’t just toss the one ring in the volcano and all go home thinking everything is back to normal. Unfortunately, the microbead ban doesn’t cover everything. There are still plenty of other microplastics added as ingredients that get washed down the drain. The ban doesn’t cover those. The ban also only really affects ‘rinse off’ products, so anything you don’t wash off can still contain them. That means make-up, sun cream, facepaint, anything like that which isn’t immediately washed off, is part of a loophole for microplastics.
How can I avoid products which still have microbeads and other microplastics in them?
With an app of course!
You can also search and check whether a product contains microplastics on the Beat The Microbead website. Click on the red and orange buttons for lists of offenders or the green and zero buttons for safer options.
The list linked above is still a good indicator of what to avoid. It isn’t complete by any means, there are thousands of brands and products sold in the UK which won’t be on there, but it will give you a good idea of what in particular you should boycott until further notice.
Check the ingredients of the products you use, any ingredient starting with ‘poly’ should be treated as suspicious. I’ll let you do your own detective work. Here is a list of the main suspects compiled by the Beat The Microbead campaign:
Poly (1,4-cis-Isoprene), Poly (2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate), Poly (2-hydroxypropyl methacrylate), Polyacrylate, Polyacrylonitrile, Polyacrylonitrile butadiene styrene, Polyactide, Polyalkyd resins, Polyalkyl stereate/vinyl acetate copolymers, Polybuthylene/Ethylene/Styrene copolymer, Polybutyl acrylate, Polybutyl methacrylate, Polybutylene terephthalate, Polycaprolactam (Nylon 6), Polycellulose acetate, Polycellulose nitrate, Polychloroprene, Polydimethylsiloxane (silicone), Polyethyleneimine, Polyethylene-glycol, Polyelastine-like polypeptide, Polyepoxy resins, Polyethyl acrylate, Polyethyl methacrylate, Polyethylene methylactylate copolymer, Polyethylene vinyl acetate, Polyethylene/acrylate copolymer, Polyethylene/propylene/styrene copolymer, Poly (ε-caprolactone), Polyformaldehyde (Oxymethylene), Polyglycolic Acid, Polyisobornyl acrylate, Polyisobornyl methacrylate, Polyisobutyl methacrylate, Polyisobutylene, Polyisoprene, Polylactic acid, Polylaurolactam (Nylon 12 or Amide-12), Polylauryl methacrylate, Polymethacrylated hyaluronic acid, Polymethacrylonitrile, Polymethyl acrylate, Poly (n-Hexyl methacrylate), Poly (N-isopropylacrylamide), Polyoctyl methacrylate, Polypentaerythrityl terephthalate, Polypropyl acrylate, Polypropyl methacrylate, Polypropylene oxide, Polypropylene terephthalate, Polystearyl methacrylate, Polystyrene, Polystyrene/Acrylate copolymer, Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon), Polytetrahydrofuran, Polytrimethylsiloxysilicate (Silicone resin), Polyurethane, Polyvinyl acetate, Polyvinyl alcohol, Polyvinyl chloride, Polyvinylidene chloride, Polyvinylpolypyrrolidon, Ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer.
If a product doesn’t list the ingredients on the packaging, stay away from it! Ingredients shouldn’t be made difficult for the user to understand, as if anyone has the right to know what is in a personal care item it is definitely the person slapping it liberally over themselves. Please be personally careful about the personal care products you use. Until manufacturers are prevented from causing environmental harm with their products, it’s up to us to make sure they don’t profit from doing so with the gleeful abandon we have seen up to now.
A conclusion to remember
Microbeads are bad.
Microbeads are banned.
No more to be manufactured,
And an end to their sale planned.
Cracking out the sandpaper in celebration,
(Reformed microplastic addict. An addiction she wasn’t aware she had until she read the ingredients. …Always read the small print, footnotes and brackets.)