Science communication


UK bans microplastics in rinse-off cosmetics and personal care products

Text: Hanna Sjölund

France was first out this year with its ban against sales of rinse-off personal products containing microplastics, taking effect as of 1st January 2018. The UK isn’t far after but with a two-step approach: banning the manufacturing as of 9 January, and thereafter sales from 20 June 2018. 

Positive news!  

Several other EU member states, some quite far ahead in their own legislative process - such as Sweden, are instead waiting for the European Commission’s Plastic Strategy, foreseen to be released 16 January and which may contain a proposal for an EU wide ban.

With the French and British governments now moving ahead, both bans focus on solid plastic particles, thus excluding liquid or semi-solid particles. But then they differ slightly:

  • They both ban microbeads found in rinse-off cosmetics. But where the French only ban their use in products with exfoliating or cleansing purposes, the British goes one step further to ban microplastic particles in all rinse-off cosmetics and personal care products. With this move, the UK government claims that it is one of the toughest bans in the world.
  • The French ban refers to particles smaller than 5 mm whereas the British also defines them as equal to 5 mm or smaller.
  • The French exclude solid microplastic particles of natural origin which do not subsist in nature and with a defined degradation time, whereas the British does not make this exclusion specific and rather defines the banned particle as being made up of a synthetic polymeric substance that is water-insoluble.

Reading the debate held just before Christmas in the House of Commons, some of the Members of Parliament voice that they would have wished for the ban to have a wider scope.

  1. Foremost it’s the issue of only focusing on rinse-off products and thus excluding leave-on products, such as make up and sun lotion which also contain microplastics and which may be rinsed off, instead wiped off and thrown in the trash.
  2. The second issue is limiting it to personal care products and not extending the ban to other cleaning products which may contain microplastics.
  3. The third issue is the definition of ‘synthetic’ and its limitations. This as semi-synthetic polymers may be derived from naturally occurring polymers but may, even though they are partially natural, not degrade in the marine environment.
  4. The fourth issue raised is that of the solidity of particles. Semi-solid particles such as synthetic waxes may not be covered by the ban.

With these issues raised it will be interesting to see what the scope of a potential EU wide ban may look like. If such a ban is proposed, will it have the same scope as the French and British or will it be further extended to cover a broader range of products with intentionally added microplastics?