Putting an end to microplastic pollution

11th February 2016

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Heli Gittins

Catherine Bearder says its time for the EU to follow the US and ban microbeads.

The scourge of microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic that pollute the world’s oceans and threaten marine wildlife, has been documented since the 1970s. However, while most people are aware of plastic pollution, such as discarded bottles or plastic bags washed up on beaches, few realise the damage caused by these millions of largely invisible fragments of plastic.

In fact, microplastics are the most abundant items of plastic debris in the sea and pose the biggest threat to marine animals and plants. They have been found in all the world’s major oceans and in sea creatures ranging in size from small invertebrates to large mammals. These plastic pieces are also thought to pose a potential threat to human health, as they pass harmful pathogens into the bodies of fish that are later eaten as seafood.

Unfortunately, it is not feasible to clean up this existing mess, as removing substantial amounts from the sea is not practicable. What we can do is to tackle the problem at source, by regulating some of the major sources of microplastics. One of these is the microbeads used to exfoliate the skin in cosmetic products. These go down the drain and many later end up in the sea.

Up until now, there has been little concerted effort to tackle this huge environmental issue. Now momentum is building for global action. Several US states have passed legislation restricting the use of microbeads in cosmetic products, and major companies have also pledged to replace them with biodegradable alternatives. And, at the beginning of this year, President Obama announced a full US ban on the products to protect the country’s waterways and seas. Now it is time for Europe to follow suit.

I have launched a written declaration, a process used by MEPs to request the European commission to develop new legislation, to demand a ban on microbeads in the EU. I now need to build support among at least half the European parliament (376 MEPs) for the campaign to succeed. You can back the call by contacting your local MEPs and asking them to support the campaign. That way we can ensure Europe plays its part in cleaning up our oceans and tackling this threat to our health and environment.


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