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In 2018, the UK government announced a blanket ban on the sale of all items containing plastic microbeads in their efforts to curb the harmful environmental effects of plastic.
This started when in January of 2018, the UK government announced a ban on manufacturing plastic microbeads all around the country. This was soon followed by the ban on the sale of microbeads in June 2018.
This move is a part of the 25 Year Environment Plan by the UK government to remove the avoidable plastic waste from circulation and inculcate eco-friendly alternatives.
In this blog, we’ll explore in-depth the effects of this ban and what this means for the future.
Plastic microbeads are tiny plastic spheres used in various products, including kinds of toothpaste, soaps, exfoliants, and cleansers. They’re so small that they often pass through wastewater treatment plants and make their way into the environment. Plastic microbeads are so tiny that they are easily mistaken for food by aquatic creatures.
British companies have been using plastic microbeads for decades, which is why many of us don’t even realize how much they’re in our everyday products. They’re most commonly found in facial cleansers and body washes but can also be found in exfoliants and cosmetics.
The plastic particles are so small that they’re invisible to the naked eye and can be mistaken for microns — very small pieces of sand. But once they wash down the drain, they can easily be ingested by marine life such as fish or turtles.
According to BBC, an estimated 15 to 51 trillion microplastic particles have been collected in the ocean, with over 280 marine species ingesting them.
Because they’re so tiny, plastic microbeads get into the stomachs of marine systems, where they can be eaten by fish and other animals. The beads can also be ingested by birds who mistake them for food. Once these species pass through the digestive tract, the beads can cause harm to the liver and kidneys since their body is unable to break them down.
The biggest threat posed by these microplastics is that they can enter the human body through consumption of contaminated fish and seafood or contact with water-based sources such as skin care products or laundry detergent.
Since microbeads can be toxic even after being removed from water systems, their presence in food products is of concern. Besides the risk of ingesting microbeads, people may be exposed through the use of contaminated drinking water sources. Microbeads commonly contaminate lakes and streams due to wastewater treatment and when not properly removed, they can get slowly accumulated in humans leading to health risks.
One significant fact about microplastics is that it releases toxins and absorb them. They accumulate high concentrations of metals and other harmful substances like bioaccumulative toxins that further threaten life on earth.
As the microbeads slowly build up in any living organism, they can begin to start issues based on body weight and tolerance. It’s rightly called the time bomb since its full impact is yet to come.
The ban on microbeads is part of a much larger effort to get manufacturers to stop using these problematic ingredients in their products. With growing pressure from activists, companies have taken steps over the past few years to phase out microbeads from their formulations. The UK cosmetic manufacturers have already stopped using plastic microbeads in their products.
While some countries have allowed using biodegradable plastic microbeads, the UK government hasn’t authorized this loophole. Since there’s no proper scientific research supporting that bioplastics degrade quickly, UK manufacturers aren’t allowed to use any form of plastic microbeads.
But that doesn’t mean the products aren’t as effective without microbeads. A team from Bath University has recently created biodegradable microbeads from cellulose that break down easily and cause no harm to the environment. The cellulose comes from the wood and plants formed into tiny droplets. These biodegradable microbeads are strong enough to be stable in body wash and other cosmetic substances to replace the plastic microbeads.
For years, environmental groups have been urging companies to get rid of these tiny, shelled pieces of plastic. And so this ban on plastic microbeads is a start for the UK government to bring more policies to ultimately reduce plastic usage — but there’s still more to do.
Following this, the UK government also announced the ban on the usage of plastic straws in 2020, which seems to be a move in the right direction.
Such a ban can also bring a change in the mentality of the people towards the usage of other plastic items in their everyday lives. The impact of this ban is quite profound and there is no reason why the people shouldn’t follow suit and keep adding to their act of sustainability by phasing out different types of plastic altogether from their lives.
Plastic straws and plastic microbeads are only the tips of the iceberg. We’re not just talking about the usage of single-use plastic items like straws that we take for granted. In fact, there are many types of plastic items that we can get rid of from our lives, but it all depends on how much effort we want to put into it.
The world will be a better place if we’re ready to put in the effort to make our homes and our surroundings plastic-free. If you want to be a part of an initiative to curb plastic pollution, then reach out to us now.