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Big loopholes for tiny microbeads in proposed ban

Big loopholes for tiny microbeads in Government’s proposed ban


YouGov polling for the Microbeads Coalition has shown that a large proportion of people wash make-up and skincare products down the drain. Yet while some of these product types have been shown to contain microplastic ingredients, they could fall outside of the UK Government’s proposed microbeads ban.

Defra’s current proposal is restricted to ‘rinse-off’ products, an ambiguous term which has caused confusion among industry and campaigners alike. But these findings suggest that products containing microplastics will continue to enter the ocean if the Government excludes them from the microbeads ban.

The survey found that:

  • 42 per cent of users wash off face make-up (e.g. foundation, blusher, concealer) down the drain
  • 60 per cent of people who don’t use make-up but do use skincare products such as sun cream wash them down the drain
  • A third of people using lip and eye products wash them down the drain (33 per cent and 34 per cent respectively)
  • Across all three make-up types, 42 per cent of people who wear make-up end up washing it down the drain

The poll also found that the majority of people who wear any make-up (61 per cent) rarely or never read product label information regarding removal methods for face, eye and lip make-up products.

Below is a joint statement from the Microbeads Coalition, which consists of the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and the Marine Conservation Society:

“Many countries around the world, from India to Korea to New Zealand, are now looking at banning microplastics in products that can end up in the sea and they’re looking to the UK to provide a model of how best to do that. By implementing a robust and comprehensive ban of microplastics in all products which can reach drainage, this Government can have a truly global impact.

“We’ve already seen the problematic loopholes in the US legislation, which limited the ban to ‘rinse-off’ products that perform an exfoliating function and ended up allowing other types of products containing microplastics to keep pouring into our oceans.

“With trillions of microplastics already in the sea, this really is a global issue and the British Government must seize the opportunity to create a world-leading ban.”

Specifically, we ask the Government to follow the guidelines below recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee and developed by Fauna & Flora International:

  • Any definition of ‘microbeads’ must include all solid plastic ingredients smaller than 5mm used for any purpose (not just for exfoliation). There should be no lower size limit included in the definition;
  • The legislation should cover all products that are washed down the drain or are directly discharged into waterways or the marine environment. This includes a wide range of cosmetic and personal care products as well as cleaning products, make-up and industrial products;
  • Legislation should not allow so-called ‘biodegradable’ plastics to be used as alternatives as these materials do not degrade in the marine environment and therefore are not a solution to the problem;
  • There should be a clear and prompt timeline for phasing out these ingredients, and a date after which products containing microplastics must not be sold.



  • For the full YouGov data, see:
  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,141 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between January 24-25, 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
  • The Government announced its intention to ban microbeads on September 3, 2016, alongside proposing the current consultation on the scope of such a ban.
  • Over two-thirds of the British public has backed a ban on microbeads –
  • Other bans on microbeads have fallen foul of loopholes. In the United States, for example, the Microbead-Free Waters Act was limited to microbeads with ‘exfoliating’ functions in ‘rinse-off’ products, meaning many microplastics were excluded from the legislation.
  • The microbeads coalition which has campaigned for a ban on microbeads consists of the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and the Marine Conservation Society.


For interviews and further information, please contact:

Environmental Investigation Agency: Paul Newman, Press & Communications Officer,, 0207 354 7960

Fauna & Flora International: Sarah Rakowski, Communications Manager,, 01223 747 659

Greenpeace UK: Luke Massey, Press & Communications Officer,, 07973 873 155

Marine Conservation Society: Richard Harrington, Head of Communications,, 07793 118 384