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Britain to become first country to ban microbeads in cosmetics

BRITAIN became the first country Saturday to unveil plans to impose a legal ban on the sale and manufacture of microbeads used in cosmetics and personal care products.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the aim is to introduce the ban on microbeads by 2017, adding that each year billions of the tiny plastic beads end up in the oceans from a range of products such as face scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels.

Defra warned the beads build up in the marine environment and can be swallowed by sea life, including fish and crustaceans.

The move comes just weeks after the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee called on the British government to take action to protect the environment as a result of the threats posed to marine life as a result of microbeads ending up in the oceans. Environmentalists say the plastics are building up in oceans and could potentially enter the human food chain.

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom who announced the measure said in a statement Saturday: "Adding plastic to products like face washes and body scrubs is wholly unnecessary when harmless alternatives can be used."

The government said Saturday it will consult industry, environmental groups and other relevant parties to establish how and when a ban could be introduced, aiming to change legislation by next year.

Some cosmetic makers have made voluntary commitments to phase out the use of microbeads by 2020, but experts want action earlier. Manufacturers are already exploring natural alternatives, including nut shells, salt and sugar, which have the same exfoliating properties but do not pose a threat to the environment.

The commons' committee's report claimed microplastic pollution could be more damaging to the environment than larger pieces of plastic because its size makes it more likely to be eaten by wildlife and then potentially enter the food chain. It cited as an example that a plate of six oysters can contain up to 50 particles of plastic.

Defra will launch a consultation later this year with the intention to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing microbeads that harm the marine environment.

At the same time, evidence will be gathered on the extent of the environmental impacts of microbeads found elsewhere, such as in household and industrial cleaning products, before considering what more can be done in future to tackle other plastics, for example microfibers, which enter the marine environment.


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