Microbeads - the story so far….

Posted by Elisabeth Whitebread — 21 June 2016 at 5:17pm - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Fred Dott/Greenpeace
Microbeads on a fingertip illustrating just how tiny they are

Last Wednesday on World Oceans Day we handed our microbeads petition into Number 10. Over 300,000 of you signed the petition - one of the biggest petitions in Greenpeace UK’s history! This is the story of the campaign so far.

In December the US passed a ban on microbeads in “rinse off” products, a move that was supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

We seized this opportunity, and in January launched a joint petition with the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna and Flora International, and the Marine Conservation Society (and later joined by the international Beat the Microbead coalition) calling on David Cameron to follow suit and ban microbeads in the UK. If they can do it in the US, why not here?

So many people signed the petition in the first few weeks that we were quickly generating headlines.

As an indication of how much the issue had moved up the political agenda, the UK parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee launched an inquiry into microplastics in March. Although their report has not yet been published, the chair of the committee has already indicated that they might call for a ban, saying that cosmetics companies need to “clean up their act”.

In April we undertook a survey to see what the great British public thinks about the issue. It turns out that hardly anyone knew much about microbeads, and people were shocked when they were told that they are hiding in lots of the products we use every day, from face washes to deodorants. Around two thirds of Brits said they definitely wouldn’t buy products containing microbeads in the future, or would only do so if no alternatives were available. And a whopping 91% said that they would definitely or possibly support a UK-wide ban on these pesky plastics.

However, the government response remained that they were working with the industry on voluntary phase-outs, despite evidence that this approach isn’t working.

But earlier this week, George Eustice, the Defra Minister responsible, said “it’s right now for us to progress and proceed with a ban”. So, finally, the government has acknowledged that a ban is needed, and that voluntary agreements by companies are not the answer.

So is this a win? Not quite. Unfortunately, the government have only said that they’ll press for a ban at the EU, not that they’ll introduce one in the UK. And they haven’t gone as far to say what they think a ban should include. This is important, because the cosmetics industry is quite keen to limit phase-outs just to some kinds of products (e.g., face washes) and not others (e.g., sun lotion). But wherever they come from, when tiny pieces of plastic end up in the sea that’s no good for marine critters, and no good for those of us who eat seafood, either.

So, we’ll continue to lobby the government for a comprehensive ban of microbeads in all products that could go down the drain. And we’ll continue to investigate what companies are doing to make sure their products aren’t polluting our seas. Our petition is still open, so if you haven’t signed yet please do so today.

Watch this space for more news over the next few months!

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