Tiny plastics, massive problems 06 April 2017
Our seas are full of plastic and Keep Britain Tidy are calling for changes to the law to stop the problem from getting worse.
 
What are microplastics?
 
Microplastics (or tiny bits of plastic) are widespread in our seas, rivers and beaches. Some are broken down pieces from larger plastic rubbish and others (microbeads) are purpose-made small pieces, found in products like make-up, body scrubs, cleaners and washing liquids. Because they are so small, our sewage systems can't stop these plastic pieces, which we wash down our plugholes, from reaching rivers and seas. Adding to the problem are nurdles, or tiny pieces of plastic that are used in the production of all sorts of plastic items. These sometimes escape into our seas during transport or from factories. 
 
Why are they are problem?
 
Lots of little plastic pieces add up to a big problem. 8,500 tonnes could be entering the seas each year in Europe alone. Plastics do not generally biodegrade, although they do fragment into smaller pieces. Because they are the same size as their food they can be eaten by fish, birds and other marine animals. As they cannot be digested, they often cause blockages in the digestive system leading to starvation in birds, turtles and whales. Of course some of us also eat marine animals, particularly fish, and scientists are currently researching whether chemicals associated with the plastics could present a risk to human health. 
 
What do we think should be done?
  • We are in favour of measures that prevent plastics from entering the seas in the first place, as prevention is better than cleaning up.
  • We welcome the government’s proposal to ban the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products, but would like to see a ban extend to microbeads in all household products.
  • We believe in reducing the plastics entering our seas by reducing the amounts we use in our everyday lives. We can do this by reducing the use of unnecessary plastic packaging and single-use plastic items, whilst making sure we collect and recycle the plastics we do use. 
 
What can you do?
  • Avoid buying products containing microbeads. The ‘beat the microbead’ initiative (of which we are proud partners) have produced a free app to help you recognise and avoid these products.
  • Follow Keep Britain Tidy on Facebook and Twitter or sign up for email updates on our work, including our support for changes such as banning microbeads.
  • Help to clean up your local area. Even if you live miles from the sea, picking up litter anywhere will prevent it entering our rivers and ultimately the sea.