Stakeholder Trends and Insights
Greenpeace Calls for UK Microbead Ban, Outlines Risk of Plastic in Seafood in New Report

Just a day after a group of cross-party MPs called on the UK government to ban microbeads, Greenpeace released a report outlining the science on the impact of microplastics, including microbeads, on oceans and seafood. The non-profit is also urging the UK government to ban microbeads, “both due to the damage they cause to marine life and as a precautionary measure against the risk of human consumption.”

Greenpeace’s report, entitled Plastics in Seafood, collates academic research to identify risks of plastics spreading toxic chemicals, being eaten by marine life, and traveling up the food chain. The non-profit launched a campaign in spring 2016 to persuade the UK government to ban the use of solid microplastics in consumer products such as toothpaste, washing powders and facial scrubs.

“As more and more research shows that microplastics can harm marine life and even end up on our dinner plates, a ban on microbeads is a simple way for Theresa May’s Government to show that they take the effects of plastic pollution on marine life and human health seriously,” said Louise Edge, a Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

“An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our ocean every year, and whether it is in the form of microbeads or throwaway plastic packaging, the science shows us that it’s a toxic time bomb. We need action now to stem this tide of plastic waste and an easy first step is to stop companies deliberately putting tiny plastics into products. Theresa May's Government needs to take the bull by the horns now and bans microbeads outright.”

Many companies have already made voluntary commitments to phase out microbeads from their products: Unilever and adidas have already phased them out, while others such as L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson and P&G aim to eliminate them by the end of 2017. Nonetheless, the UK government’s cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is calling for a national ban – and later ideally a Europe-wide ban – to create a “level playing field for all cosmetics companies,” and encourage laggards to catch up. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also proposed a ban in its 2015 report, Plastics in Cosmetics.

Microplastics are often the result of plastic litter such as packaging breaking down in the ocean, but microbeads are unique in that they are manufactured at a tiny size for use in a range of household products. Greenpeace’s study reveals that the potential consequences to human health of both microbeads and other microplastics are “greatly under-researched.” While the effects on human health remain unclear, the report does provide evidence of microplastics appearing in seafood. A study from the University of California, Davis and Hasanuddin University published last September found that roughly a quarter of the fish sampled from fish markets in California and Indonesia contained man-made plastic or fibrous material in their guts. Greenpeace argues that a “prolonged industry-led phase out of microbeads simply isn’t good enough.”

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