Beginning on June 30, 2018, the United Kingdom’s ban on the sale of “rinse-off” cosmetic and personal care products containing plastic microbeads in their formulas will take effect as part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (“Defra”) efforts to reduce the harmful, pollutive impact that plastic microbeads have on the marine environment. The sales ban follows the ban on the manufacture of such products in the UK that went into effect on January 9, 2018. Defra described the prohibition as “one of the world’s toughest bans on these harmful pieces of plastic.” Notably, the UK ban applies to both biodegradable and non-biodegradable plastic microbeads.
While the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) and organizations such as Beat the Microbead and Plastic Soup Foundation have pushed for an EU-wide ban on the sale of plastic microbeads, it does not appear that such a ban is being developed at the moment. However, European countries are trending toward microbead bans: Sweden’s ban on the sale of rinse-off cosmetics with microbeads takes effect on July 1, 2018 (although sellers who obtain such products before that date may continue to sell them until January 1, 2019); Ireland plans to introduce a microbead ban by the end of 2018; and several other countries in the European Union are reportedly in the process of developing their own microbead bans.
Plastic Microbeads in Cosmetics
For decades, plastic microbeads have been used in facial cleansers, soaps and toothpastes for their exfoliating properties. However, in response to growing concerns about the environmental impact of plastic microbeads in recent years, many companies have reformulated their products to use other non-plastic exfoliants, such as walnut shells, salt, seeds and jojoba beads, among others.
Plastic microbeads make their way from our sinks and showers, to the sewage systems, and into the marine environment. One scientific study found that in the United States alone as many as eight trillion microbeads end up in our lakes, rivers and oceans every day. The microbeads absorb toxins and are ingested by marine animals who transport them to other creatures up the food-chain.
UK Follows Example Set by US Ban
The “tough” UK ban follows in the footsteps of the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 in the United States banning both non-biodegradable and biodegradable plastic microbeads, which was signed into law by President Obama on December 28, 2015. Prior to the federal ban, however, eight of the nine states to pass legislation banning plastic microbeads in personal care products exempted biodegradable plastic beads from the ban. California was the only state with a plastic microbead ban that included both biodegradable and non-biodegradable plastics within its scope, as studies showed that even the biodegradable microbeads disintegrate quite slowly and create a negative environmental impact. For more history about the introduction of state-level microbead legislation, see CK&E’s earlier post regarding New York’s Microbead-Free Waters Act and the proposed laws in other states.
While the scopes of the UK and US bans are substantially similar, a violation of the UK ban could come with a much steeper monetary penalty. While the fine for violating the US ban generally does not exceed $1,000 (assuming that there was no intent to defraud or mislead), a violation of the UK ban could cost the violator up to 10% of its annual revenue in England.
If you are a manufacturer, it is important that you stay up to date with the industry regulations in every territory where you manufacture or distribute your products. CK&E has decades of experience helping clients adapt their businesses and products to comply with changing regulations all over the world, in a cost-effective and efficient manner.