Over the past few years in the UK, there has been increasing concern about the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics, and the negative impact that is having on sea-life and the environment.  Petitions to this end have gained tremendous momentum, with the UK government pledging to ensure that microbeads are eliminated from products such as shower gel and toothpaste in 2017.

Microbeads are miniscule pieces of plastic, which are too small to be filtered effectively.  When these ultimately reach the sea, they are often consumed by marine life, including fish, frequently killing them before they are able to reach reproductive age.  In other instances, when the fish are caught, these microbeads are ingested by humans. 

George Eustice’s announcement to ban the use of microbeads pleased environmentalists in the UK and abroad, with many applauding his determination to have this issue raised as a matter of importance with other countries within the EU.  Given that there are already safe alternatives to plastic microbeads, including nut shells and salt, it seems prudent to address the issue and ingredient substitution with immediate effect.

Yet the EU are appearing to show some resistance to this, claiming that imposing a ban could break EU free trade laws.  The question is whether this is deliberate policy, presumably designed to protect big business, or another example of unintended consequences.  This would come to pass in the event of a blanket desire to enable free trade, the consequence of which is to allow harmful activities to continue unimpeded.       

Law applicants may want to think about the ways in which the EU Cosmetics Regulation (EC) can be amended to include a clause about microbeads. Candidates looking to read Geography may want to consider the environmental economics pertaining to the cosmetic industry, while Biological Sciences applicants may want to think about the development of natural and environmentally-friendly alternatives to microbeads.

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