The UK government has stated that it will consider a ban on plastic microbeads in personal care products such as face scrubs and shower gels.
The beads are designed to exfoliate the skin, but as some are less than a millimetre wide, they can be missed by water filters after being rinsed off and travel into the sea. They are made of non-biodegradable plastic, so do not break down.
Further research needs to be done to show how damaging the beads are for marine life, but current evidence suggests that sea-dwelling creatures at the bottom of the food chain are ingesting the plastic. It is possible that this has wider implications across the food chain.
The Environmental Audit Committee began hearings on microplastics this week. Richard Thompson, Professor at Plymouth University’s School of Marine Science and Engineering, has previously told the committee that one third of fish tested in the English Channel were found to have plastic in their digestive tract (taken from a sample of 504 fish).
Water UK Director of Environment, Sarah Mukherjee, said “water companies work hard to help maintain rivers, lakes and streams that are abundant with life, and to make sure that the fantastic and unique wildlife of the British Isles can thrive. Evidence suggests that the tiny bits of plastic in some cosmetics and shower gels can get through companies’ systems and into the environment, and so we will follow the government’s decision with interest.”