Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

United Kingdom: Legislation Proposed to Ban Micro-Beads in Cosmetics and Soaps by October 2017

(Dec. 29, 2016) Microbeads, also known as micro plastics, are tiny plastic beads added as exfoliators to face scrubs, toothpaste, and shower gels. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee found that around 680 tons of microbeads are used in the United Kingdom annually, and each shower with a product containing these beads can send up to 100,000 of them into the sewage system, which can cause serious harm to marine life, as many fish swallow them but are unable to digest them.  (THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT COMMITTEE, ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF MICROPLASTICS: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, Parliament website (last visited Dec. 21, 2016).) Many companies have already voluntarily removed these beads from their products, and the legislation aims to remove them from all future personal care products.  (Press Release, Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, Government Sets Out Next Steps to Ban Microbeads (Dec. 20, 2016).)

The proposal to ban microbeads comes as a result of a report issued by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which found that micro plastics are causing harm to the marine environment. (THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT COMMITTEE, ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF MICROPLASTICS, 2016-17, HC 179 (Aug. 24, 2016), Parliament website.)

The consultation paper/report, issued jointly by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Scottish government, the Welsh government, and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, is seeking public views on this proposed ban.  The consultation aims to gather together evidence on the environmental impact these products have had, as well as the impact of other sources of marine plastic pollution, to help further UK action to protect the environment.  The Committee has noted that while microbeads form a small percentage of micro plastic pollution in the sea, it is a “significant and avoidable environmental problem, and possible a low-hanging fruit in the context of tackling wider pollution.”  (Id. ¶ 39.)