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UK government urged to target 'major sources' of microplastics

Products - Face scrub microbeads© Voyagerix - Fotolia.com

A UK cosmetics trade body has said personal care products should not be the main target of government policies, to prevent microplastics polluting the ocean. 

The UK’s environment ministry, and the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have launched a consultation on a proposal to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products by October this year.

Cosmetics, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) director-general Chris Flower said: “If we are to stem the tide of microplastic marine litter, we must tackle the major sources and these are not cosmetic products.” 

Dr Flower said the CTPA was pleased that the consultation will also seek information on the other sources, "much of which we know come from the breakdown of larger plastic items.”

A report from the Environmental Audit Committee meeting in August says that between 80,000 and 219,000 tonnes of microplastics enter the marine environment across Europe each year and that microbeads are “a significant and avoidable part of the problem”. It added that “the wider issue of microplastic pollution cannot be set aside once microbeads have been dealt with.”

Dr Flower said that any measures taken by the UK government must be “evidence-based, proportionate and targeted at the major contributors to plastic marine litter.”

The government proposals have also attracted criticism from NGOs, which say a microbead ban should include other products such as washing powders and household cleaners, rather than focusing solely on personal care.

Greenpeace oceans campaigner, Elisabeth Whitebread, said: “Marine life doesn’t distinguish between plastic from a face wash and plastic from a detergent, so it's important that the government ensures we end up with a world-leading ban that covers all household products.”

Many personal care companies have pledged to phase out microbeads by 2020 and a number of retailers, including Tesco and Waitrose, have banned them in their own label products.

“The UK cosmetics industry has been acting voluntarily to remove microbeads from products since 2015. We have achieved a 70% reduction so far and are well on our way to full removal, so we welcome that industry progress is highlighted in the government’s consultation,” said Dr Flower.

The consultation opened on 20 December and will close on 28 February.

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