Microbeads are just that - tiny, toxic, pearls of plastic that can be found in anything from toothpaste (yes really), to shampoo and/or any general bath and body product - typically they are used to burst an ingredient onto the skin and are often used within body scrubs. Not only are such beads entirely useless and often harsh but they are an ever present danger to the environment.
Rather worryingly mircobeads do not tend to be biodegradable - meaning they will never dissolve nor disappear; rather when they are washed away from the body, they then go straight down the drain and directly into the sewer systems. The problem is that water treatment plants have not been designed to filter out something as minuscule and as pesky, as the beads and as a result, their final destination happens to be the sea (there is around five tonnes within British waters). Perhaps most disturbing is that research has indicated that the beads may be absorbing toxins along the way (airborne toxicology investigations are ongoing), which then may well be consumed by sea life. It of course goes without saying that if you eat fish, there is a good chance that you too have also consumed the plastic substance unwittingly.
As the plastic beads are a dated and often useless method of exfoliation, there is no real need for them to be present within products nor the market place - especially given all the other options within one the most booming marketplaces, hence why so many countries have called for a blanket ban. Paving the way is the U.S, some states have seen the ban effective as early as 2015 within the rest of the country to follow by example by 2017; similarly Sweden will be in a similar position come 2018 - Kemi, the Swedish Chemicals Agency, has proposed a ban on rinse-off cosmetic products containing Microbead from January 2018.
Within the U.K the initial decision was to follow a voluntary phase out; twenty-five market leading brands agreed to such terms and the hope was that smaller brands would follow suit. Due to the aforementioned countries blazing the way, the U.K's plan is now much broader and dare I say optimistic. The hope is that the E.U will agree to constricting or completely banning the sale and use of such beads - so far countries such as France, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium have shown support. Of course with the current E.U referendum that may well mean nothing to those living within the U.K in the coming months but it is a progressive step forward none-the-less for Europe on the whole.
Regardless of the current political situation, should the E.U not go forward with such plan (it could take as long as four years), the U.K will introduce a ban on microbeads used within cosmetic products. The problem is that without the E.U's backing is that the UK can only restrict the manufacturing of microbeads within the U.K, the can not prohibit the sale as that is determined by E.U trade rules - essentially it means no beads of this nature will be made within the U.K but British based cosmetic companies can purchase the beads from other markets, free from sanctions. Messy and not really an ideal solution. There is however hope as pressure from the general public is ever growing.
What I have took away from the recent debate is that no less than 300,000 British patrons signed a petition, which was delivered to David Cameron supporting a U.K wide ban; this means at least 1/4 of a million people do not use, nor support the toxicity of such beads and that soon enough the government will have no choice but to take action. If they can prohibit the use of CFC's in aerosol cans back in the 1970's (again Sweden was one of the first countries to take action), then tackling tiny beads shouldn't be that much of an issue.
If you are looking for great, microbead-free body scrubs may I suggest this wonderful Lush option; or perhaps you might want to try your hand at a D.I.Y concoction such as this.