Environmental Impact of Microplastics A report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee

We are the Environmental Audit Committee. We scrutinise the UK Government on environmental protection and sustainable development.

For the last few months we've been looking into what action the Government should take on the environmental impact of microplastics.

We've heard evidence from scientists, environmental groups, industry representatives, cosmetics companies, and Government ministers & officials.

As a result, we are recommending that the Government introduce a ban on cosmetic microbeads.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles which can pollute the ocean. They come from sources including personal care cosmetic products, the breakdown of large plastic waste, and synthetic fibers from clothing.

Cosmetic microbeads only make up a small proportion (between 0.01% and 4%) of microplastics entering the ocean.

But they are an avoidable environmental problem, and they are the source of microplastics about which most is known.

The impacts on fish and the marine environment are still being researched.

However, there is evidence that there is scope for significant harm to the marine environment from microplastics.

Up to 86 tonnes of microbeads from personal care products are washed into the marine environment from the UK every year.

Once in the ocean, they can be eaten by fish, mussels and zooplankton.

A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles being flushed into the sewage system.

Many cosmetics companies have made voluntary commitments to phase out microbeads.

However the commitment is not universal, there are inconsistencies in approach, and some companies will not phase out until 2020.

We are not convinced that voluntary action alone will be adequate to tackle the challenges of microbeads.

We call on the Government to introduce a legislative ban on microbeads in cosmetics and toiletries. We believe this will ensure a level playing field.

Microplastic pollution does not respect national borders. There are advantages to dealing with the problem on an international basis.
The Government has been working towards an EU ban. The vote to leave the EU means the UK's influence in that process will be significantly reduced. We recommend that the UK Government's ban aligns as closely as possible withinternational measures.

Cosmetic microbeads are only one part of the wider issue of microplastic pollution.

We recommend that the Government draws up a plan for assessing and tackling microplastic pollution more broadly.

Synthetic fibres from clothing and tyres are two other sources of microplastics that should be examined at an early stage.

Human health impacts should also be a priority subject for research.

We delivered these recommendations to the Government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 24th August 2016. They will respond within a few months.

Environmental Audit Committee, Environmental Impact of Microplastics, HC179

Photo credits (top to bottom):

  • Chesapeake Bay Program (CC BY-NC 2.0)
  • Hands with Scrub - R Ingle (FFI)
  • Nurdles found at Limekilns on Firth of Forth - Madeline Berg
  • Klaus Stiefel (CC BY-NC 2.0)
  • Polyethylene - R Ingle (FFI)
  • Pouring Microbeads - T Cox (FFI)
  • nurdle-2364 - Claire McIntyre
  • maldeseine (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (CC BY-NC 2.0)
  • Stuart Chalmers (CC BY-NC 2.0)
  • Sustainable Coastlines (CC BY-NC 2.0)
  • Rockpool full of Nurdles - Tracey Williams, Newquay Beachcombing
Created By
Environmental Audit Committee

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.