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Microbeads – We won!

Posted by Louisa Casson - 21st July 2017

Today is a big day: we’ve won our microbeads campaign!

The UK government just proposed the strongest ban on microbeads in the world to date. This is great news for our environment and a positive sign of Britain’s global leadership on ocean plastics.

We still need to keep an eye on the details on the ban in legislation coming forward this autumn. But the announcement from the government today made clear that the ban does cover so-called “biodegradable” plastics (as there’s no evidence these actually do biodegrade in the marine environment) and that all personal care and cosmetic products containing microbeads will be off the shelves by 30 June 2018 – one day before the same happens in the US!

It’s crucial that ministers have left the door open to broaden the ban in future to all products that go down the drain – not just cosmetics and personal care products that are classified as “rinse-off” (like body scrubs and shower gels). The government said that currently there is not enough evidence on which other products contain microplastics – this is largely due to industry irresponsibly not disclosing enough information.

To achieve a fully comprehensive ban, we need companies to be much more transparent about when their products contain harmful microbeads. Proper disclosure is important for tackling all forms of ocean plastics – we’ve also highlighted a lack of transparency from the soft drinks industry on the size of its plastic footprint.

This week, new figures reminded us of the enormous scale of the plastic problem. The vast majority of all plastic made since 1950s has ended up polluting our land and seas or buried in landfill. A whopping 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics has been produced in the past 60 years. That’s enough plastic to cover every inch of the UK ankle-deep more than TEN TIMES OVER. Yet 91% of all plastic made since 1950s has not been recycled.

It’s hugely welcome that the new Environment Secretary Michael Gove has acknowledged the broader need to end ocean plastics, and specifically highlighted the problem of single-use plastic bottles. We know that plastic bottles are a major part of the problem, and are one of the most common plastic items washed up on beaches worldwide.

So we’re also glad to see the government voicing support for the introduction of a deposit return scheme in England, following progress and strong political support in Scotland. The government even described supporting greater resource efficiency as a “key priority for the UK Government” today. It seems even a snap election and all the other political ups and downs of the past year can’t disturb the momentum behind tackling ocean plastics!

We couldn’t have secured this victory without the help of 385,000 of you who signed our petition and our coalition partners: Environmental Investigation Agency, Flora & Fauna International and Marine Conservation Society. Thanks to all of you, let’s celebrate this win on the long road to end ocean plastics!

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About Louisa Casson

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I'm a campaigner in Greenpeace UK's oceans team, leading our campaign to create the world's largest protected area in the Antarctic ocean.