Barry Gardiner

Working Hard for Brent North

Barry on plastic microbeads

Microbeads are usually smaller than 5mm, making them small enough to go down plugholes and pass water filtration systems and Greenpeace state that scientific research is continuing to find examples of plastic inside all kinds of sea-life and they are being consumed by humans through toothpaste or seafood that has ingested them. Barry sets out his position below:

It is alarming that only 5% of our plastics are recycled and another 40% end up in landfill, while a third is never collected and ends up clogging up our sewers and polluting our ecosystems. As a result, globally, about 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year. I am concerned that current Government policy in the UK is failing to provide the right framework for stopping litter from reaching the sea or indeed to prevent it at source. 

This is hugely damaging to our marine animals and ecosystems. Indeed, it is estimated 90% of birds have plastic in their stomachs and serious concerns have also been raised about small plastics, such as microbeads, entering the human food chain. I share these concerns.

Unfortunately, the Government favours a voluntary approach and states it has been working with other countries to secure the voluntary phasing out of microbeads. The Government has also supported initiatives, such as Beat the Microbead, which help consumers identify products that do not contain microbeads. 

As you may be aware, in December 2015, the European Commission adopted a circular economy package, which includes new legislative proposals on waste targets. The Commission aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, including marine litter. I welcome this package, but am concerned that the UK Government is taking a negative stance in negotiations on key proposals within it and lacks a coherent plan or vision for making the transition to a circular economy.

I believe we need to rethink the way we manage resources and in particular, to transform how plastics travel through our economy. I believe the UK should be aiming for ambitious targets as part of the EU Circular Economy package, which could unlock the opportunities that come from greater resource efficiency. I believe an important first step would be for the Government to ban microbeads in cosmetic products. 

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