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The UK's Environmental Audit Committee has called for microplastics to be banned from being used in products like facial scrubs and toothpastes because of the pollution they are causing in the world's oceans.

Huge numbers of tiny pieces of plastic are building up in our oceans, lakes and estuaries.  Microbeads are very small pieces of plastic, which are now a common ingredient in beauty products like exfoliants and shower gels.  They are also found in some toothpastes.  An estimated 86 tonnes per year of plastic are released into the UK's waters from the use of facial exfoliants containing plastic microbeads alone.

According to Committee chair Mary Creagh MP, taking a single shower could release up to 100,000 particles into the oceans.  Across Europe, it is believed that up to 219,000 tonnes of microplastics enter the oceans each year, though this is an estimate and the true figure could be lower.

A huge amount of plastic debris has built up in our oceans, but most of this is made up of larger fragments and complete objects made from plastic.  Microplastics are a problem because they are so small that they are easily ingested by fish and it is likely that some go on to be ingested by humans when they eat the fish.  There are now trillions of microbeads cirulating in the world's oceans.

A legal ban on the use of microplastics would be an obvious way of tackling the problem and the Committee is calling for a law to be made in the UK within the next 18 months.

You can find out more about plastic pollution here:  

Conservation Education 30: The problem with plastic

Video: Holiday of a Lifetime - the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Photo showing plastic microbeads on a fingertip by MPCA Photos

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