Plastic microbeads in hygiene products should face outright ban by 2017, say MPs
An outright ban on the use of plastic microbeads in bathroom products must be introduced by the Government to reduce harmful marine pollution, MPs have said.
The tiny pieces of plastic are commonly found in items such as exfoliating body scrub and toothpaste.
But there is concern the material is building up in oceans across the world, potentially damaging wildlife and entering the food chain.
Many cosmetic companies have made a voluntary commitment to phase out the use of microbeads by 2020.
However, the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee wants firmer action to be taken and has called on the Government to ban the use of the plastics in products by the end of 2017.
The committee's chairwoman Mary Creagh said: "Trillions of tiny pieces of plastic are accumulating in the world's oceans, lakes and estuaries, harming marine life and entering the food chain.
"The microbeads in scrubs, shower gels and toothpastes are an avoidable part of this plastic pollution problem. A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.
"Cosmetic companies' voluntary approach to phasing out plastic microbeads simply won't wash. We need a full legal ban - preferably at an international level, as pollution does not respect borders.
"If this isn't possible after our vote to leave the EU, then the Government should introduce a national ban."
It is estimated that as much as 86 tonnes of microplastics are released into the environment every year in the UK from facial exfoliants alone.
The committee suggests in its report that the cosmetics industry is failing to adequately label products which contain microbeads.
It recommends that if the Government does not introduce a ban it should at least bring forward a requirement for clearer labelling while companies continue with the voluntary phasing out of the use of the material, so that consumers know exactly what they are buying.
Ms Creagh said: "Most people would be aghast to learn that their beauty products are causing this ugly pollution. Cosmetic companies need to come clean and clearly label their products containing plastics."
The report suggests microplastic pollution could be more damaging to the environment than larger pieces of plastic because its size makes it more likely to be eaten by wildlife and then potentially enter the food chain, for example a plate of six oysters can contain up to 50 particles of plastic.
The report concludes there is "little evidence on potential human health impacts of microplastic pollution", but further research is "clearly required".
It also highlights alternatives to microbeads, including ground almonds, sea salt and oatmeal.
Professor Tamara Galloway, a marine pollution expert from the University of Exeter who gave evidence to the committee, welcomed the call for an outright ban and said there is "no doubt" microbeads are harmful to the environment.
She told the Press Association: "Anything that reduces the amount of plastic that reaches the ocean in the first place has got to be good news."
A Defra spokesman said: "We are absolutely committed to protecting the world's seas, oceans and marine life from pollution, and will take a detailed look at the recommendations contained in this timely report.
"Many leading manufacturers have already taken voluntary steps to remove microbeads from cosmetics, beauty products and toothpastes.
"We will now consider what further action is appropriate, and make any announcements in due course."