Stemming the tide of microplastic pollution

7th July 2016

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Natural resources ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Politics & Economics ,
  • England


Hollie-Louise Allen

The Environmental Audit Committee is putting pressure on firms using microbeads.

Clear, clean waters teeming with wildlife in a healthy habitat. Sadly that is not the reality across vast tracts of the globe. Much of it is now heavily polluted with plastics as a direct result of human actions and our ever-increasing dependency on the material. Production of plastics increased in the UK by 38% between 2004 and 2014, which illustrates the point.

It is not just the visible plastic bags, bottles and fishing detritus that are polluting our oceans but the less obvious litter of tiny plastic particles, referred to as microbeads. These are less than 5 mm in size and present a significant danger to the fish that mistake them for food. One study revealed that in 2009 micro-plastics were found in 36.5% of fish caught by trawlers in the English Channel.

Microbeads are used in a wide range of cosmetics, household cleaning products and synthetic clothing. They present a hazard because, once used and swilled off, microbeads disappear down the drain and are so tiny they are not filtered out during the water cleaning processes, ultimately ending up in the seas. The statistics are stark. An average 150 ml container of cosmetic product might contain three million plastic particles resulting in around 100,000 particles being washed down the drain after just one shower.

So what to do about this worrying problem? With one-fifth of microbeads used in the cosmetics industry I suggest this may be a good place to begin looking into a ban. Thanks to consumer pressure and campaigns by groups such as Greenpeace, the industry is already beginning to take note and look into different ingredients. I strongly encourage people to question whether microbeads are in the products they use. The more pressure consumers can put on manufacturers to change the more likely they are to react. I am using Twitter to this effect. It is a useful vehicle for naming and shaming but also for praising those companies not using microbeads.

The environmental audit committee, of which I am a member, is conducting an inquiry into the effects of micro plastics. I’ve already spoken to Defra ministers about the possibility of introducing some kind of ban, perhaps just on cosmetics to start with, and I sense there is an appetite for this.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

IEMA’s deputy CEO reflects on announcements and controversy at COP28

With the first week of COP28 drawing to a close, IEMA’s deputy CEO, Martin Baxter, reflects on some of the key announcements made so far, addresses the controversy surrounding the climate summit, and highlights what to look out for in the second week.

7th December 2023

Read more

Groundbreaking research warns that the models used by the finance sector to predict climate scenarios could easily sink our retirement pots… and the global economy. Huw Morris reports

30th November 2023

Read more

IEMA CEO Sarah Mukherjee MBE talks to food campaigner Henry Dimbleby MBE about improving the UK’s health, tackling poverty, shaping government policy and transforming agriculture

30th November 2023

Read more

A thought-provoking discussion on the future of zoos took place at the Royal Geographical Society in London last night, featuring a star-studded panel of conservation experts.

30th November 2023

Read more

Individual action or systems change? Which is the best route to net zero? Sophia Mwema weighs up the options

30th November 2023

Read more

The Labour Party’s climate policy team took part in a panel discussion with IEMA representatives at Westminster this morning, outlining what they plan to do should they win the next general election.

29th November 2023

Read more

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled the “biggest permanent tax cut in modern British history” in his autumn statement today, as well as significant investment for the net-zero transition.

22nd November 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close